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Today we continue our series on 3D printing and the Supply Chain and how it impacts logistics. In the first post in the series, we gave a high level of the outlook on the burgeoning technology of 3D printing and the supply chain and logistics implications. Today we will really go further into this impact to manufacturing and consequently on supply chains. We will continue our series next on the impact of what 3D printing and the supply chain and what it could mean to logistics. As always, we welcome your comments at the end of the article!

The Future Changing Landscape of Manufacturing due to 3D Printing

3d printing in manufacturing and supply chainWho would have thought that modern manufacturing could be done without a factory? Since the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing has been synonymous with factories, machine tools, production lines and economies of scale. So it is startling to think about manufacturing without tooling, assembly lines or supply chains. However, that is what is emerging as as the future of 3D printing services takes hold.

3D printing is making its mark as it reshapes product development and manufacturing and turns individuals, small businesses and corporate departments into “makers.”  Today you can make parts, appliances and tools in a wide variety of materials right from your home or workplace. Using a computer, simply create, modify or download a digital 3D model of an object. Click “print,” just as you would for a document, and watch your physical 3D object take shape. No longer the stuff of science fiction, 3D printing is a new reality.

While this new reality is exciting, it also poses significant questions for the future of how we manufacture goods. Factories will not disappear, but the face of the manufacturing industry will change as new entrants, new products and new materials emerge, and mainstay processes in logistics, like distribution, may no longer be needed. Today’s consumers clamor for customized products and services and for speed of delivery. Yet customization and immediacy, right here, right now (AKA known somewhat as “Just in Time” in the supply chain and logistics world), are not economical with traditional manufacturing processes, which are optimized for large volumes of consistent output in a factory far away. (Now this is a also a driving force for reshoring, as we know, to get factories closer to the customer. Such as the decision for Motorola to put their factory in Forth Worth, Texas to better get customized product to customers.)

3D Printing is truly a game changer in the fields of manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics. 3D printers are being used to economically create custom, improved, and sometimes impossible to manufacture products right where they will be used. A single printer can produce a vast range of products, sometimes already assembled. It’s a factory without a factory floor and it has created a platform for innovation, enabling manufacturing to flourish in uncommon areas and spawning a new generation of DIY manufacturers. The new players, with their innovative process and technology, will disrupt manufacturing as we know it. Economists call the adoption and use of 3D printing the third industrial revolution, following mechanization of the 19th century and assembly-line mass production of the 20th century.

What is the Impact on the Automotive Manufacturing Industries?

For years, major automotive manufacturers have been using 3D printing for prototyping. Howerver, the automotive industry is posed to begin applying the process to more than just prototypes of small custom parts.

3d printing manufacturing supply chainTake for example, the Urbee, billed as the world’s first printed car. The two passenger Urbee, crated by KOR EcoLogic, dismisses preconceptions about limits to 3D printing sizes (also see the 3D printing of a HOUSE – which we found from our good friend Peter Dawson). To be clear, not all parts are 3D prnted, just the shell of this hybrid prototype car, though the interior components are planned to be 3D printed.

Engineers at BMW have leveraged 3D printing to create ergonomic, lighter versions of their assembly tools to increase worker productitivy. By improving the design, workers are carrying 2.9 pounds less and have improved handling and balance.

In addition to ergonomics, another are where 3D printing can make a big difference is marketing. Imagine showing a full-scale 3D model instead of a CAD drawing as part of a bid proposal.

What is the Long Term Impact For 3D Printing and the Supply Chain with Mass Adoption?

Although at present is nowhere near displacing the standard supply chain or the way we manufacture, 3D printing  and the supply chain has the potential to transform certain parts of manufacturing over the longer term.
In addition, instead of taking place in bespoke factories, 3D printing will create demand for smaller and more standard premises, opening up opportunities for developers and investors.
Let’s take a look at the differences in today’s more traditional supply chain versus what it could look like in the future with more 3D printing and the supply chain:

The Current State or Traditional Supply Chain Before Mass 3D Printing Adoption

  • Products are mass produced (e,g. in China)
  • Manufactured goods are ‘pushed out’ and distributed through warehouse network to customers
  • Long lead time
  • High transport costs
  • Large carbon footprint

What 3D Printing and the Supply Chain will Look Like Once Mass Adopted and Applied in the Manufacturing Process

  • Customised production
  • ‘Pulled’ by end customer demand
  • Locally printed and distributed
  • Short lead time
  • Low transport costs
  • Low carbon footprint

INFOGRAPHIC: The Impact of 3D Printing and the Supply Chain and Manufacturing

3d Printing supply chain infographic

How do you think 3D Printing and the supply chain will faire in the next coming years? Let us know in the comments section below.