3D printing finds its place in the supply chain

In a 2016 “Logistics Trend Radar” article, DHL identified 3D printing as a major disruptive trend impacting logistics, due to the technology’s potential to “create instant production and distribution models.”

3D printer creating plastic parts

With just a single 3D printer, companies and consumers can:

  • Cut out steps in the design, prototyping, and manufacturing process
  • Improve delivery time
  • Reduce logistics and production costs
  • Enhance efficiency with greater sustainability

Today, 3D printing is already being used in a number of ways. Here are some of the companies and industries currently making use of this versatile technology:

  • Normal Earphones prints custom-fit headphones, which are designed by analyzing pictures of each customer’s ears.
  • NextDent personalizes dental crowns after performing a 3D scan of the teeth.
  • Medical professionals can now create inexpensive prosthetic hands.
  • Several manufacturers can customize shoe sole inserts based on foot scans.
  • Local Motors has designed the world’s first 3D-printed electric car.

Applications of the technology abound. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s also earning its place within the supply chain.

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What lies ahead for 3D printing?

As 3D printing starts to bridge the gap between prototyping and production, some companies are looking at streamlining CAD software, and making it more accessible.

3D design and printing technology has advanced at an alarming rate. We can now print complex objects from different materials, in different colors, in rapid time — even in the comfort of our own homes.

Then there’s the varied commercial applications for 3D printing (3DP). One survey of US manufacturers found that two out of three companies are already adopting 3DP in some way. Some of these companies include General Electric, Nike, Airbus, Amazon, Hasbro, Hershey’s, Boeing, and Ford. And we hear countless stories of 3D-printed houses, cars, aircraft components, musical instruments, shoes, robots, and body parts, just to give a few examples.

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3D Printing: What’s the hype and hope about?

Full disclosure: Twelve months ago, if you had told me that I would be the CEO of a 3D printing company one year into the future, I would have laughed out loud. You see, one year ago, I was entering into my seventh year running the team that plans, builds and deploys Google’s worldwide cloud infrastructure. A dream job, yes, but one that I was growing mentally and physically tired from seven years of constant non-stop activity and growth – and I needed a change. As much as I hated to admit it, even I recognized the signs of burn-out.

My original plan was to sit on a beach for six months to decompress, recharge, and think about the future of technology, my life and eventually forge a new path forward. As they say, the best laid plans…

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3-D Printing is the future of factories (for real this time)

FACTORIES, THE CHIEF innovation of the industrial revolution, are cathedrals of productivity, built to shelter specialized processes and enforce the division of labor.

Adam Smith, who illuminated their function on the first page of The Wealth of Nations, offered the celebrated example of a pin factory: “I have a seen a small manufactory… where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. [They] could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins a day… Separately and independently… they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin a day.”

But the benefits of factories suggest their limitations. They are not reprogrammable: To make different products, a factory must retool with different machines. Thus, the first product shipped is much more expensive than the next million, and innovation is hobbled by the need for capital expenditure and is never rapid. More, specialization compels multinational businesses to circle the globe with supply chains and warehouses, because goods must be shipped and stored.

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3D printing is the future of factories (for real this time)

FACTORIES, THE CHIEF innovation of the industrial revolution, are cathedrals of productivity, built to shelter specialized processes and enforce the division of labor.

Adam Smith, who illuminated their function on the first page of The Wealth of Nations, offered the celebrated example of a pin factory: “I have a seen a small manufactory… where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. [They] could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins a day… Separately and independently… they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin a day.”

But the benefits of factories suggest their limitations. They are not reprogrammable: To make different products, a factory must retool with different machines. Thus, the first product shipped is much more expensive than the next million, and innovation is hobbled by the need for capital expenditure and is never rapid. More, specialization compels multinational businesses to circle the globe with supply chains and warehouses, because goods must be shipped and stored.

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Will 3D printing impact global trade?

The Dutch multinational banking and financial services corporation ING did a study last year that predicted that the mass adoption of cheap, high-speed 3D printing could decrease global trade by as much as 25%.

The reason given was that it would cut down production time and reduce the needs for imports.

However, a Harvard Business Review article in 2015 suggested that 3D printing works best in areas where customization is key, for applications such as printing hearing aids and dental implants.

In one of Wolfgang Lehmacher’s World Economic Forum articles, co-written with Martin Schwemmer of Supply Chain Services SCS, they argue that 3D-printing based production will bring factories closer to customers and products faster to the markets.

Nevertheless, it still has its restrictions.

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Disruptive 3D printing forces companies to reconsider manufacturing

Manufacturers are missing the board perspective on 3D printing. They need to completely reconsider their manufacturing processes.

3D printing technology has been around for decades, mostly used for creating prototypes. Advances in the technology have allowed 3D printing to morph into additive manufacturing (AM). When making one-offs or spare parts, 3D printing becomes a simple alternative to machining or molded parts. However, everything changes when it comes to production manufacturing. AM becomes a disruptive technology when you can print a single assembly that was previously 15 separate parts.

3D Systems, additive manufacturing 3D printing, part count reduction, PCR“The vast majority of those working with 3D printing still don’t see it in a broad enough perspective. They take this component or part that they’ve made for years, and say, ‘What would it take to 3D print it?’ It takes more time and money, and so they say this doesn’t work for us,” Jack Heslin, president and VP of business development at 3DTechTalks and Lazarus3D, told Design News. “But they’re not redesigning their manufacturing to take advantage of 3D printing. If they do, they might find that what was 100 parts will be 10 parts or less. That will affect their time-to-market, their accounting, their cost, everything.”

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3D Printing set to revolutionize mainstream manufacturing

According to Gartner, 3D printing has great potential. Total spending is predicted to grow at a 66.5% CAGR to $17.7 billion in 2020 with over 6.5 million printer sales. Gartner also predicts that “by 2020, 75% of manufacturing operations worldwide will use 3D-printed tools, jigs and fixtures made in-house or by a service bureau to produce finished goods. Also, 3D printing will reduce new product introduction timelines by 25%.” Enterprise 3D printer shipments is also expected to grow 57.4% CAGR through 2020.

The top priorities related to 3D printing include accelerated product development, offering customized products and limited series and increasing production flexibility. Here are additional 3D printing market forecasts:

  • 57% of all 3D printing work done is in the first phases of the new product development
  • 55% companies predict they will be spending more in 3D printing services and solutions in 2017
  • 47% of companies surveyed have seen a greater ROI on their 3D printing investments in 2017 compared to 2016

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People don’t understand 3-D printing well enough to use it, tech CEO says

An Apis Cor 3D Printer prints a house at the Stupino Aerated Concrete Plant in Moscow, Russia on 9 Dec. 2016.The manufacturing industry could be transformed by 3-D printing, but business owners don’t understand the technology, slowing its adoption, according to Adrian Keppler, CEO of industrial technology services player EOS.

“People don’t understand it, and they have a hard time understanding what it means for their business,” he told CNBC’s “The Rundown” on Thursday.

The 3-D technology allows the construction of lightweight parts — a feature that Keppler said could benefit vehicle makers in particular as the auto industry shifts toward electrification, and as more regulators impose emission limits.

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5 sectors that have the most to gain from 3D printing

5 Sectors That Have the Most to Gain From 3D Printing3D printing leads the way toward a more innovative future. Here are some areas of life that are seeing a lot more benefit from 3D printers than others.

Recently, a company in San Francisco announced it could 3D print an entire house in just 24 hours. The startup called Apis Cor used a mobile 3D printer to build a 400-square-foot house in the middle of a Russian town. While 3D printing isn’t necessarily a new invention, the developments of additive manufacturing continue to wow us and show a future that may be more efficient. It could even be able to solve large-scale problems. So where are some of the areas that 3D printing can provide innovation? Here are five of the biggest sectors that have the most to gain from 3D printing.

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