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Today we conclude our look at the impact of 3D Printing on the Supply Chain and Logistics. We covered a high level of how 3D printing is impacting the supply chain and then dug deeper to show those impacts via an infographic. As we conclude this series, we found out that the rise of 3D printing is coupled with other major trends such as big data, reshoring, and the trucking capacity crunch. Undoubtedly, as you will see, 3D printing will have a major stamp on the logistics space in the present and the coming years. If you are a savvy manufacturer or work in the supply chain, make sure you heed these trends now to stay on the competitive edge.

The Major Trends are Working together to Change The Logistics Landscape…is 3D Printing the Glue that Holds it All Together?

Increases Production Speed, While Reducing Logistics Costs

Having 3D printed inventory on hand for the most purchased items, allows companies to ship freight immediately on a new e-commerce personal order, a large order by a distribution center, or parts and supplies needed to manufacturer custom products by manufacturers.

3d printing and logisticsInbound logistics costs may be more manageable in this way of having 3D printed supplies available easily. You have the ability, as stated previously, to order common and often used parts which go into the products you commonly and frequently manufacturer, in bulk, so you always have them on hand.

Instead of paying inbound freight costs for each separate order, you pay less frequent shipping costs for the supplies, thus decreasing your overall inbound logistics costs. On the flipside, if you pay the shipping costs to ship your supplies to a manufacturer, you ship to them less often, thus decreasing outbound logistics process time and costs as well.

Another option, instead of purchasing the actual supplies, you purchase only the 3D CAD design for you to print at your facility. You buy a commercial scale 3D printer, and print out the parts yourself, thus eliminating the need to ship again and again (and paying for the logistics costs each time) redundant and easy to print parts and supplies. With 3D printing, product changes and mass production of identical goods is affordable and quick. When 3D printing is more common to reproduce for large scale manufacturing, assembly lines wouldn’t be as central to the production process, saving the manufacturer time, labor and logistics costs.

Consumer Demand Met Faster (The Rise of “Just In Time” Logistics)

The definition of “Just in Time” (JIT) logistics is: “The process of minimizing the times required to source, handle, produce, transport, and deliver products in order to meet customer requirements.”

Increased efficiency in the manufacturing industry with improvements in operations and technology, along with the possibilities of customization offered by 3D printing, would allow manufacturers to respond to customer demand and thus have the ability to execute just in time logistics effectively, all while not having to sit on large volumes of expensive inventory nor worry about the interruptions, as drastically, such as natural disasters to the supply chain.

Manufacturing could become more consumer-based and responsive to the current market and its needs. Consumers could have greater input in the final product and could request to have it produced to fit their particular specifications. This customer-centric approach, at least for now, is quite a competitive advantage, as it allows you to make products customers are ready to buy, and decrease having to prototype a new product, release it, and hope it is a hit. We all now how expensive “guessing” can be for your business.  Now, with the advent of 3D printing, you can manufacturer new products that are in line with the data you are seeing from your customers’ feedback in social media and other data available to you in the technology you’ve invested in as a manufacturer.

The Combination of 3D Printing and Big Data is a “Consumer” Competitive Advantage

3d printing and logistics and big dataThis may not have been possible without both 3D printing and the rise of Big Data, driven by more online activity such as social Media. While 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, it was not until the early 2010s that the printers became widely available commercially. The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. It may be a coincidence that the rise of the use of Big Data by manufacturers is occurring all around us and is one of the top trends for manufacturing in 2014, and that 3D printing is now more in the spotlight, but the two are most likely related. Having big data (and good analysis of big data), and more specifically, the data containing customers’ wants and desires, one can see how 3D printing is more in demand as a way to realistically manufacturer products that meet customers’ demands but without the expensive costs of pushing out changes to current products or making a new product all together.

The Rise of Reshoring and 3D Printing Continue the (Logistics) Focus Closer to the Customer

Again, it seems the rise of 3D printing goes hand in hand with meeting more customer demand all while decreasing overall costs of doing business. Like with 3D printing’s friend, Big Data, Reshoring is in the circle of combining powerful trends sweeping manufacturing today to get a focus on the customer and achieving logistics cost cutting measures. Now, unlike just in time, and increasing customer service, 3D Printing and the Reshoring trend combination is more about hard logistics costs savings, than the soft costs (and longer term) realized with customer satisfaction. However, both provide the long term and SUSTAINBLE costs that manufacturers really need to have in their business.

If production costs with 3D printing influence an overhaul of global supply chain costs, the lower cost could make offshoring labor unnecessary.  Offshored manufacturing in a lower cost market could be replaced by manufacturing facilities located on domestic soil, therefore increasing the reshoring of a lot of lost manufacturing facilities. These facilities would be located closer to the consumer, allowing for a more flexible and responsive manufacturing process, as well as greater quality control. But, the greatest cost realized is on the logistics and transportation expenses side of things. Do you know the difference in shipping from China to the US versus say California to Texas? Let’s just say, if you were to reshore and could now send your customer freight faster and at a fraction of the transportation costs, you would save a LOT of money.

Changes in Transportation: An LTL and Small Package world Versus a Full Truckload World

There are no shortage of FULL Truckload freight brokers in the United States. We have mega brokers abound that are moving millions of pounds of freight via full truckload every day. But, could the use of 3D Printing, reduce the amount of Full Truckloads on the road, and thus decrease the long hours currently realized? This trends to cut logistics costs via 3D printing is not as full-fledged ready to go as the combination of big data and reshoring for cutting logistics costs, but, the ability to manage, customize, and decrease costs when shipping by Less Than Truckload or small package is much easier than full truckload management.

Again, this trend is in line with other trends in logistics and transportation such as battling the capacity crunch by using LTL, pool distribution and load optimization strategies such as co-loading, to battle ever rising logistics costs.

Truckers currently pull long hours to distribute mass quantities of goods across the nation. But, with smaller batches created to respond to a current demand, and products manufactured closer to the final destination, long trucking hours could be significantly reduced. This would aid EOBRs in keeping our truckers awake on the road and lower distribution’s environmental impact.

Logistics will change, undoubtedly, from the rise of 3D printing. However, this is only one spoke in the wheel of major trends changing logistics, manufacturing, distribution, the supply chain, and the world of freight. Perhaps 3D printing may never make it out of the garage, but as with anything, if consumers continue to increase demand, and the big players, such as GE and Rolls Royce invest millions into 3D printing, as a manufacturer or logistician, you better pay attention to these changes now….before they are already past you and you have devolved to out of business.

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