3D printing is touted as one of the most disruptive developments in manufacturing and beyond. UK-based Simon Knowles, Chief Marketing Officer at Maine Pointe, reflects on the impact the innovative technology can have on supply chain management. He outlines potential benefits of the technology and five ways it will impact the supply chain.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a process which uses a three-dimensional digital model to create a physical object by adding many thin layers of material in succession, subsequently lowering cost by cutting out waste. This is radically different from current, subtractive production methods where up to 90% of the original block of material can be wasted. Although we tend to think of it as a new technology, the first 3D printer was introduced nearly 30 years ago.
So far, issues such as durability, speed and protection of intellectual property rights have prevented 3D printing from entering mainstream manufacturing. However, the industry is making rapid advancements and it’s only a matter of time before we see it significantly impacting global supply chains and operations. According to the Global Supply Chain Institute (GSCI), “some supply chain professionals predict 3D printing will eventually rival the impact of Henry Ford’s assembly line.” This technology has the power to help companies significantly reduce costs, overcome geopolitical risks / tariffs, improve customer service, reduce their carbon footprint and drive innovation for competitive advantage.
Even companies with the best-laid plans for supply chain digitization often struggle to achieve their goals, and recent Capgemini research provides some insight into the various factors holding some businesses back. The study, which suggests that many businesses remain stuck in the planning phase of digital transformation, offers several useful takeaways.
Released in December, “The Digital Supply Chain’s Missing Link: Focus”report surveyed more than 1,000 supply chain executives in the consumer products, manufacturing, and retail fields.
Key Survey Takeaways
The opportunity for cost savings was the primary motivator for the executives interviewed, with 77% saying that this impacted their decision in aiming to digitally transform the supply chain. Increasing revenues (56%) and supporting new business models (53%) were also cited.
Most companies are still only at an early stage on their journey towards a true digital supply chain transformation. That’s partly due to history, because companies have traditionally sold products and services through linear value chains as well as an antiquated IT infrastructure making even relatively simple digital initiatives a big challenge.
However, as digital ecosystems consisting of market networks enable hybrid forms of cooperation and competition with shared data in the cloud, it is no longer an option to not be digital. One important challenge is identifying the right supply chain use cases that will provide a competitive advantage and can be addressed utilizing a digital-based solution. There are three key digital supply chain trends having significant positive impacts on clients: lights-out planning, blockchain and 3D printing.
3-D printing famously endured a “hype cycle” circa 2012-2015, when popular media took note of the technology and ran with it. Common headlines of the time dubbed 3-D printing a technology right out of Star Trek while many consumer publications and tradeshows (including mainstay CES) cried out for placement of a 3-D printer in every home. This straight-out-of-sci-fi solution would let kids make their own Christmas presents! Rockstars became brand ambassadors. 3-D printing was The Next Big Thing.
Until it wasn’t.
The crash followed and it hit hard, with the resulting whiplash changing the headlines: suddenly 3-D printing wasn’t a savior, it was “dead.” Kids didn’t know how to design their own toys to make, parents had problems calibrating print beds and cleaning material jams and the consumer craze fizzled. With many a token Yoda head landing in trash cans, 3-D printing was laid to (popular) rest.
Supply chain management and the production and storage of spare parts represent something of a sticking point for the global manufacturing industry. Spare and replacement parts have traditionally been stored on shelves in warehouses after having been produced alongside the components used in original production assemblies. Many of these parts will take up space for years, with some going unused but staying put just in case. Out-of-production original assemblies may become fully obsolete once parts are no longer in stock, leaving owners at a loss and needing to reinvest in wholly new products to replace something that may have only been impacted by one broken component that couldn’t be replaced.
Many industries rely on physical inventory to meet aftermarket needs and have accordingly built up global supply and distribution networks.
With 3D printing moving towards broader adoption many companies are now entering our market. One of these is Deloitte. The professional services firm that does everything from accounting to tax and M&A also wants to guide firms into the 3D printing world. We interviewed Vinod Devan, Product Strategy and Operations Lead at Deloitte Consulting to see what the firm’s plans are in 3D printing and how it hopes to help customers.
Why is Deloitte entering the 3D printing market?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a critical component of the Industry 4.0 digital transformation.AM technology is finally at the point where companies are starting to realize significant, tangible, new value for themselves and their customers. Deloitte is making significant investments in 3D printing knowledge and capabilities so that we can advise and join with our clients as they revolutionize supply chains, product portfolios, and business models.
As manufacturing evolves, so have expectations around how businesses produce and deliver their goods to market.
In fact, as countries across the region race to adopt Industry 4.0 solutions and practices to address increasing time-to-market pressures and shrinking product lifecycles, or product customization, many may assume that digital is the default.
However, the picture of the global manufacturing landscape reveals a different reality.
Legacy design systems have not always kept pace with the ever-evolving demands of business, resulting in high costs, loss in potential revenue, and inefficiencies for the businesses and people who depend on them.
Jabil is creating a digital network to manufacture 3D printed parts
Over the years, Jabil, the manufacturing solutions provider and one of HP’s partners in the production of 3D printers, has been recognized as a supply chain innovator by the likes of Gartner. Today, it is in the process of creating what Jabil and John Dulchinos, the vice president of digital manufacturing, calls a digital supply chain.
As Dulchinos explains, that is one in which networks of digital printers are distributed to locations around the world, such as Singapore, where Jabil manufacturers HP’s 3D printers, while the design and process work is centralized in Silicon Valley. “We’re building production files in San Jose, and sending them to Singapore where we’re manufacturing them on 3D printers and then assembling the final product,” Dulchinos says.
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…
One of the many advantages of additive manufacturing is its ability to produce a diverse range of components. With this in mind, Pete Basiliere, Research Vice President of Additive Manufacturing at the U.S. research and advisory firm Gartnerdelved into the potential for a business contingency plan based on 3D printing and its digital capabilities.
Natural disasters and manufacturing operations
3D printing technology for disaster relief is already an active area of research. For example, the 3D printed delivery drones created for humanitarian aid, yet, according to Basiliere, little is done for the recovery of an organization’s manufacturing operations when the elements are against them.