3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has come a long way since it was first developed in the 1980s. While 3D printing originated as a tool for rapid prototyping, it has now evolved to cover several different technologies. 3-D printing has been an interesting and convenient solution to part replacement planning. Its applications became popular for a quick solution to create small, insignificant plastic replacement parts. The evolution of 3D printing has seen a rapid growth in the number of companies adopting the technology. The applications and use cases vary across industries, but broadly include tooling aids, visual and functional prototypes, and even end-use parts.
As the potential applications for 3D printing increase, companies are beginning to find ways to create new business models and opportunities with the technology.
How it Works
Additive manufacturing allows fast on-demand prototyping without expensive tools and molds and reduces waste saving manufacturers time and money. But the real disruption is likely to come in the manufacturing and shipping of parts. 3D printing excels at small-series manufacturing (less than 200 units per month) and mass customization. On the logistics side, 3D printing can be done anywhere there is a printer, thus cutting out shipments. UPS, for example, is outfitting outlets with 3D printers, anticipating the day when it will receive CAD files, print parts, and deliver locally. Most manufacturing and logistics organizations are taking a relaxed approach to 3D printing, thinking they will have time to adapt. That is less and less true every year. Organizations that are piloting and building a foundation for 3D printing now will be best positioned to capture future value.
We’ve already seen developing countries skip landline phones in favor of cell phones. Technology that’s more flexible and requires less infrastructure is always preferable. It is therefore no stretch to imagine those same countries skipping the complex supply chains we rely on today, for methods which embrace technology.
Not everything should be 3D printed. But with its multiple benefits like solving the perennial challenge of a ‘just in case’ stockholding, 3D printing technology offers supply chain opportunities that shouldn’t be overlooked.
More and more schools are incorporating 3D printing into their curriculum as tools to better prepare kids for the future. Makerspaces, equipped with printers, CNC machines, and other tools, have become common. Also, 3D printers can be found in public libraries already. Most universities have at least one 3D printer for students to use in classes or their own projects.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of 3D printing applications in the world of medicine, from bioprinting and surgery preparation to prosthetics. This field is still under a lot of research, so it’ll be exciting to see where it goes in the future.
In the same way that Uber disrupted the taxi industry, and Airbnb the hospitality industry, consumers have increasing control over supply chains. As digitization fuels the ‘demand economy’, 3D printing synergizes perfectly with connected manufacturing.
This on-demand part production provides the opportunity for greater levels of personalization for finished or almost-finished goods. For example, clothes with personalized printed elements, or a smartphone case with a custom design. Parts can also be individualized, such as manufacturing aids with ergonomics specific to the worker.
Best of all, when it comes to slow-moving parts, 3D printing offers guaranteed product availability through on-demand manufacture. Essentially, 3D printers can replace your ‘just-in-time’ inventory. Already a reality, virtual warehouses can send 3D model files digitally to the nearest 3D printer. And logistics companies like DHL and UPS are already using 3D printing to supplement their ‘end-of-runway’ services when specific parts are needed in the fastest possible time.
The additive manufacturing revolution is coming, and it could impact your supply chain sooner than you think. Whether you believe the technology will revolutionize the production and supply chain process or merely enhance it, you cannot afford to ignore it. Just as driverless trucks will help ease the driver shortage additive manufacturing will help improve the flow of the supply chain. It is now more important than ever to plan to be mean and lean. Take advantage of every technology that makes sense for your production line. Take a long, serious look at what you’re doing and how your doing it.
Skilled advising is more than the dispensing and accepting of wisdom; it’s a creative, collaborative process; a matter of striving, on both sides, to better understand problems and craft promising paths forward. Contact Land Link Traffic Systems today to explore technology solutions for your supply chain.
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