There are a number of challenges facing lab design/build experts—cost and availability of equipment and supplies, as well as ordering and transporting them, are among such concerns. Time is also a factor in many lab builds or renovations.
A relatively new innovation, 3D printing, could offer a solution to such challenges. First developed in the 1980s, 3D printing has picked up steam in recent years and has been used in a number of fields—medical devices and prosthetics, surgical models, dental molds, aircraft parts and entire, road-ready cars. Novelty keepsakes have also taken off, proving that such technology isn’t exclusively for big labs and major companies. For example, a coworker has a four-inch figurine of himself perched proudly on his desk. If you’ve got the cash, then a 3D printer could be yours.
DHL released its latest DHL Trend Report today – 3D Printing and the Future of Supply Chains. DHL has been testing a variety of both 3D printing hardware and techniques for several years and has identified applications that have potential to redefine manufacturing and supply chain strategies. While the 3D printing market is estimated to grow between US$180 billion and US$490 billion by 20251, the report however finds it will not become a substitute for mass-production but a complementary process.
Matthias Heutger, Senior Vice President, DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation, said: “The DHL Trend Report ‘3D Printing and the Future of Supply Chains’ recognizes 3D printing as a transformative technology. However, it is not a magic bullet that will render factory mass production and manufacturing obsolete. Its exciting potential lies more in its capability to simplify the production of highly complex and customizable products and spare parts – and this could bring logistics and manufacturing closer together than ever before.”
Even in its relative infancy, 3D printing has created an enormous list of possibilities: dental aligners to straighten your teeth, unique toys for your children, inexpensive custom prosthetics for people with limb deficiencies, and restoring lost or destroyed cultural artifacts. It can also be used to create untraceable firearms and an endless supply of copyright infringements.
Just as when the internet developed, 3D printing is opening doors to amazing opportunities and benefits – as well as some undeniable dangers. Also called “additive manufacturing,” 3D printing’s enabling of truly decentralized, democratized innovation will challenge traditional legal, economic and social norms. Potentially faulty products and counterfeit goods are again among the leading concerns. Some people are already calling for preemptive regulation of 3D printing on those grounds.
Someday, the dusty back shelves of America’s warehouses could be replaced by UPS and SAP-enabled 3-D printing.
The companies on Wednesday said their goal is to transform the now ad hoc realm of industrial 3-D printing into a seamless, on-demand manufacturing process, from order to manufacturing and delivery.
“We don’t think this is going to take over manufacturing anytime soon. But we do think it’s going to be a disruptor much in the same way that online retail has disrupted retailing,” said Hans Thalbauer, senior vice president for extended supply chain at SAP.