3D printing has come a long way in an extremely short span of time. Initially built by Charles Hull in the 1980s as a tool for making basic polymer objects, today, the technology has spurred remarkable efforts in several manufacturing sectors; from building intricate aircraft and race car components, to human organs and prostheses.
Now, the wider business world is beginning to understand the potential of 3D printing for cost-effective, efficient and environmentally-friendly manufacturing. It is little wonder that analyst firm, Canalys see the global market for 3D printers reaching $16.2bn (£10.3bn) by 2018. With increasing adoption, the technology will revolutionise manufacturing as well as the supply chain and logistics processes which surround it.
At the same time that global hostilities mount, fiscal pressures weigh heavily on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) ability to confront them effectively and efficiently. The challenges are particularly acute in the DoD’s maintenance and supply chain enterprise.
The DoD’s extensive Maintenance Enterprise poses daunting risks (see sidebar, “The Department of Defense Maintenance Enterprise”). Maintenance needs are complex and highly unpredictable even in peacetime. The Department’s current operations require high levels of customization and production of parts in remote locations in low volumes and on tight timelines, imposing high entry barriers for suppliers of traditionally manufactured parts. The consequences are lower operational readiness and sortie rates, higher transportation costs, reduced process predictability, long lead times, and considerable excess inventory and waste.
3D printing has captured the imagination of the media and the financial markets; prognosticators are predicting a fundamental disruption in the manufacturing paradigm, from mass production to mass customization. Are we finally achieving the “lot size of one” that Taiichi Ohno envisioned when creating the Toyota Production System? Will factories disappear as the “maker movement” drives demand toward custom-designed items created on 3D printers in the home? How will these changes affect the industrial supply chains?
The answers are “yes,” “no,” and “profoundly…in certain cases.” As with many other new technologies, forecasters overhype the changes while naysayers ignore the potential. Ultimately, we expect to see fundamental shifts in some supply chains but not others. To understand the phenomenon and evade the hysteria, we need only look at the history of a recent disruption: e-commerce. The potential of the Internet was initially overhyped, yet it has had profound-but not overwhelming-effects on most supply chains.
The anxiety that 3D printing could lead to a new front in the war against counterfeiting and trademark infringement has increased exponentially this year, thanks to a predicted ‘explosion’ in the new technology due to the expiration of some key patents. Welcome new innovations could ease those worries but there is still much to be done.
3D printing and additive manufacturing technology is advancing at a startling rate, meaning more companies are introducing it as a means of cheaper and more efficient manufacturing. It also means much easier pirating of protected designs, as it requires just a digital 3D blueprint to be downloaded and printed to create an identical-looking copy. Gartner predicted earlier in the year that the emergence of 3D printing will create “major challenges” in relations to IP theft, predicting a loss “of at least $100 billion per year in IP globally” by 2018.
This first post is the first in our series on 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, and its impact on the supply chain and logistics arenas. As more and more stories come out on the main stream use of 3D printing as a way to create supplies to use in the manufacturing process, there is clearly an impact on the supply chain. Today we will briefly cover what is 3D printing, how some view the future implications of 3D printing in general, some applications we’ve come across in various stories, and then a brief touch on the impact of 3D printing use as it pertains to logistics and supply chain applications.
This series could be a two or three part series, but it could be longer. Stay tuned over the next few days for more on 3D printing and the impact on the supply chain and logistics.
Additive manufacturing (AM) has exploded into public consciousness over the past several years. More popularly known as “3D printing,” AM is an umbrella term for a group of technologies that creates physical products through the addition of materials (typically layer by layer) rather than by subtraction (e.g., through machining or other types of processing).
Stories and perspectives appear in the popular press and technology blogs on a daily basis. Enthusiasts tout the prospect for AM to revolutionize manufacturing industries and the markets they serve. Skeptics point to the relat
ively limited number of uses and materials in current practice and to the relatively small impact these technologies have had outside of a few niches. Critics raise concerns about applications (e.g., 3D printed guns) and the inevitable intellectual property issues that the increasing adoption of AM technologies will create.
Christopher Barnatt, the British futurist, scholar, videographer, and author of 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution provides 3DPrintingStocks.com an in-depth (and fascinating!) discussion about the future trends, business opportunities, technologies, and adoption curves in the 3D printing industry.
Most people were introduced to the concept of Additive Manufacturing (AM) for the first time during President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address. This technology, more commonly referred to as 3D printing, is believed by most to be in its relative infancy. What people don’t know is that it has been developing for the past three decades and is just now starting to garner the attention it deserves for the impact it will have on manufacturing operations and traditional supply chains.
My first encounter with 3D Printing was 15 months ago on deployment to Bahrain. ‘While reading New York Times bestseller, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Dr. Peter Diamandis (Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation) and Steven Kotler (bestselling author and science journalist), I was introduced to the technology as one of several that have the potential to solve the world’s greatest problems. They explain that, “Suddenly an invention developed in China can be perfected in India then printed in Brazil on the same day.” (LOC 1369 Kindle)
Working in the supply office of a US Navy Minesweeper helped me realize the vast potential that could be unlocked if we had access to a 3D printer on the ship. Assuming we could print enough parts to justify the initial investment in the technology, we could save time and money on transportation costs, benefit from skilled technical distance support, reduce opportunity cost (the cost incurred when we don’t execute), and increase overall mission readiness. The idea of not having to suffer long lead-times for one-off production runs of legacy parts, items no longer provided through the Navy stock system, intrigued me and I began to investigate the history and capabilities of this technology.