Category Archives: Supply Chain Models

The value of additive manufacturing: future opportunities

Published in September 2017, in conjunction with Imperial College London’s Additive Manufacturing Network, this paper presents an overview of the potential economic, technical and environmental benefits of additive manufacturing (AM) – 3D printing – as well as the current hurdles across the AM process chain that need to be overcome to realise a more-effective and more-profitable industry. For example, improved design software, faster printing technology, increased automation and better industry standards are required.

Imperial College London is equipped to play a leading role in the UK’s ever-growing AM landscape. The current portfolio of AM-based research is varied and encompasses problems across the entire design-to-end-use-product chain. Research projects include, for instance, the development of new design methodologies for optimised multimaterial AM parts, novel metal-based AM printing techniques, investigations of fundamental AM material properties and 3D printing of next-generation biomaterials for medical applications.

AM research at Imperial can be further extended by capitalising on the College’s world-class scientific and engineering expertise and factilities, its culture of collaboration and history of effective research translation. There are several ways for external partners interested in the AM field to engage with Imperial academics: focused workshops, bespoke consultancy services, funding for specific research projects and facilities, or student placements

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What was hot in Supply Chain Technology in 2017?

When it comes to new technology, development usually proceeds incrementally. But progress continues to be made on many fronts. Here is a look at some critical new technologies, and how the ARC Advisory Group assesses their maturity.

3D Printing of Spare Parts

The opportunity to use 3D printing – more accurately labeled “additive manufacturing” – to print spare parts is widely recognized.  In ARC’s conversations with industry insiders, we have come across many companies that have beta projects and are printing a small number of parts, but no company that is doing this at scale. There are a number of challenges associated with scaling additive manufacturing in the supply chain. However, the challenges are not insurmountable. New cloud-based solutions are very promising.

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How will 3D printing alter the movement of freight?

Turning bits into atoms in real-time? It’s as profound as the idea of instantly sharing thoughts across the world would have been to a person just a few decades ago. So how close are we to the dreams of the 21st century, and what does 3D printing have to do with it?

Mercedes-Benz Trucks is printing 3D parts for some of its European distributors. 3D printing could alter supply chains as businesses would not need to ship inventory or components long distances.

The story begins with manufacturing. Layer-by-layer, additive manufacturing, colloquially still called 3D printing, is a disruptive form of manufacturing that is transforming—in the short term—the spare parts supply chain. Soon enough it will be much more. A San Francisco startup is printing houses—with better construction and for less money per square meter than standard construction today. And if you think it’s all just plastic, think again. They’re printing cars. They’ve been printing jet engines since early 2015.

Around the globe, people are using 3D printing to create all manner of things, even 3D printing food. Instead of carrying slow moving parts across a network of warehouses, these warehouses will just manufacture the parts as needed. 3D printing offers many advantages over traditional manufacturing, like the ability to print hard-to-find machine parts on demand, or print shapes that aren’t found in traditional manufacturing processes.

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The Future of Advanced Manufacturing: Design for 3D Printing and implementation of digital factories

3-d-printingWe are still in the early days of 3D printing with respect to the impact that it can deliver both technologically and conceptually. Accepting new ways of designing parts is the first step. From there, we need technology that can help us deliver on the promise of complexity.

If the global engineering and manufacturing community plans to keep unlocking the full potential of industrial 3D printing, together they will have to keep rethinking the fundamentals of design engineering and digital factories of the future.

The Global 3D printing community has grown exponentially since it was invented in 1983 by Charles Hull. The industry has established industrial verticals like aerospace and medical due to major adoption from several leading organizations to satisfy complex needs. Companies that utilize 3D printing are looking to lightweight parts, to create new channels for thermal heat conductivity, which explore new material mechanical properties.

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The revolution is here

With 90 3D printers at its 26 factories, Volkswagen counts on metal 3D printing for exclusive car series & replacement parts

German car manufacturer Volkswagen is no stranger to additive manufacturing technologies, as the company has been exploring various applications for 3D printing in the automotive industry.

At its Volkswagen Autoeuropa plant in Portugal, for instance, the company reported producing as many as 1,000 parts using its fleet of Ultimaker 3D printers last year and has seen significant cost savings since implementing the technology.

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Future-Proof On-Demand Supply Chain with 3D Printing

Design-rich experience and immediate product delivery are the new normal in consumer demand, which is forcing radical shifts in the global supply chain. 3D printing is a critical component to a successful transition to on-demand manufacturing.

On-demand products are customer-specific items produced at (or near) the point of need.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But for supply chain managers, nothing could be less simple. They will spend restless nights and long, bleary-eyed days in front of spreadsheets, trying to align their piece of operational model to the needs of on-demand manufacturing.

Why bother?

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Future-proof On-Demand Supply Chain with 3D printing

Design-rich experience and immediate product delivery are the new normal in consumer demand, which is forcing radical shifts in the global supply chain. 3D printing is a critical component to a successful transition to on-demand manufacturing.

On-demand products are customer-specific items produced at (or near) the point of need.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But for supply chain managers, nothing could be less simple. They will spend restless nights and long, bleary-eyed days in front of spreadsheets, trying to align their piece of operational model to the needs of on-demand manufacturing.

Why bother?

Read more

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Globalization vs. Localization and why they both matter

Today’s manufacturing and supply chain landscape is prominently characterized by two seemingly competing forces: globalization and localization. They are both tremendously important while setting a different framework for growth. Globalization has emerging markets which are demanding a greater supply of goods, utilizing more sophisticated supply chain approaches as well as products must compete on a truly global scale. On the other side, with regulation relief, tax reform proposed and enthusiasm in the public debate for keeping manufacturing jobs at home, Localization has growing appeal even with the disrupter of 3D printing and smaller demand runs.

So, how should manufacturers balance both concepts while still being competitive?  First, we need to accept that Globalization and localization don’t necessarily have to be opposed. When we stop seeing globalization and localization as necessarily opposed to each other, we see many steps that manufacturers are taking to stay ahead of the curve can satisfy both needs. In addition to embracing automation technology, below are two key developments that every manufacturer and supply chain partner must consider:

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Is your supply chain ready for additive manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing and 3D printing promise to simplify manufacturing, reduce inventories, and streamline operations. But, to determine when and how to apply additive manufacturing, organizations need a decision model that assesses it’s market strategy, supply chain performance, and complexity.

Long before manufacturers talked about custom manufacturing and batch runs of one, there was orthodontics. Orthodontics treatments are customized by nature. Orthodontists meet one-on-one with every patient to take X-rays and make molds of their teeth and then create a unique treatment plan to correct a patient’s misalignments. That custom approach spawned an industry of decentralized dentists, orthodontists, and dental laboratories who each have a role in the treatment plan. Think of it as a complex and expensive dental supply chain. For a long time, the question was: Well, what is the alternative?

Enter Align Technology, Inc., a global medical device company that disrupted the rules of the orthodontics game. Align Technology produces clear aligners—sold under the Invisalign brand—as a malocclusion treatment. Made of a nearly transparent plastic material, clear aligners work on the same principle as metal braces: They put soft pressure on individual teeth to move the denture into the desired position. However, instead of adjusting metal arch wires and brackets throughout the treatment, Align Technology provides a customized, transparent plastic rack for each phase of the plan. Clear aligners have the added benefit of being much more discrete than a mouth full of metal.

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How 3D printing might fit your business

A good short video on how 3D printing can help businesses from the folks at MHI.


In this video, we provide some real-world examples for the application of 3D printing in both commercial and industrial supply chain operations.

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