Smart phones and hand-held mapping devices were once devices of the imagination until technology made them real. Now, we can add 3D printers to this list of inventions. 3D printers have a huge potential to bring revolutionary changes in manufacturing and supply chain management.
WHAT IS A 3D PRINTER?
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), refers to processes used to synthesize a three-dimensional object in which successive layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object.
What could previously only be imagined can now be made in minutes. Need a car 3D printed – A company named Local Motors is 3D printing cars in USA! Need a custom-fitted prosthetic hand or hearing aid? Print it on a 3D printer. Stuck on a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean with a broken engine valve? 3D Print a new one. Have an idea for a cool new product? There is no need to raise capital and have it manufactured – just design it yourself and print it on your 3D printer. The possibilities seem endless.
3D-printed products will be made of advanced materials that are stronger & longer-lasting. And because they can be manufactured in small runs, products like personalized replacement knees and hips are already being customized for individual patients.
TRENDS IN 3D PRINTING
President Obama made a mention in his 2012 State of the Union Address, saying, “3D printing . . . has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”
The 3D printing market is growing fast. Estimates indicate annual industry growth of 25% to 30% as major manufacturers adopt the technology, such as GE Aviation which makes fuel nozzles used in its jet engines through 3D printing.
Technology research and analysis company Canalys projects the global 3D printing market will go from $2.5 billion in 2013 to a whopping $16.2 billion in 2018.
3D PRINTING – WILL IT REVOLUTIONISE MANUFACTURING AND SUPPLY CHAIN?
As technology made the world contract, companies expanded overseas and even local firms partnered with suppliers across the globe, leading to the rise of the GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN. In the not-so-distant future, 3D printers could transform it to a globally connected, yet totally LOCAL SUPPLY CHAIN.
Because 3D printers inherently create a close relationship between design, engineering, marketing and manufacturing, their use holds the potential to shift some manufacturing away from low-wage countries and closer to the customer base, so companies can more quickly respond to consumer demand.
Factories could be affected, too. Additive manufacturing eliminates repetitive production tasks, so workers would need a higher level of skills to make more sophisticated goods. Factory jobs could get eliminated as the focus shifts to design and engineering, logistics and IT.
Here are ways in which 3D printers could alter the supply chain:
Manufacturing lead times will be substantially reduced (think minutes, not days).
New designs will have a shorter time to market.
Customer demand will be met more quickly.
Materials will be used more efficiently, as leftover substrate powder can be used for the next project.
Logistics will adjust to print-on-demand, eliminating the need to carry inventory.
To Summarize: We can expect the future supply chain to become more efficient, more LOCAL and yet GLOBALLY CONNECTED! 3D Printing will tear up the global supply chain apart and re-assembles it as a new, local system.
Raghunandan Ramachandran – Shipping & Logistics Professional