Every day brings with it news of innovative ways that 3D printing is being used, the amazing things that it can make, and how it will transform our world beyond all recognition. There is talk that it will radically change supply chains, from eliminating the need to store spare parts and having 3D printers in car service centres, to more fantastic claims of solving sustainability issues.
Despite 3D printer sales growing at around 25% per annum, hinting that it is having a significant impact in how things are made, 3D printing is not yet generally used in manufacture. It remains an interesting tool for making things, intriguing and enigmatic for many businesses, wondering how best to meet their customers’ needs.
Technology-enabled processes are providing manufacturers a bird’s eye view of the entire supply line. This comes with its benefits and challenges
Location is no longer an indicator of taste—whether in the food you eat, the clothes you wear or the furniture you buy. It is not outlandish to demand guacamole in Mysore, distressed jeans in Bikaner or an IKEA sofa in the heartland of Matheran.
This is at least partly because the processes that used to frame the production of a good—whether a pail of paint or a bottle of antiseptic lotion—are no longer limited by their proximity to material, the ready availability of freight-fit highways or the closeness of distribution centers. Increasingly beholden to customer’s changing tastes, they are instead moving continuously outward to include more functions that render the modern supply chain more global, complex and diverse and yet also more agile, efficient and productive.
Actively driving this trend forward is technology. Dominated by big data, cloud and IOT, technology-enabled processes are providing manufacturers a bird’s eye view of the entire supply line that is at once far more comprehensive in its reach as well as far more detailed in its scope simply due to enhanced visibility.
Good article from CIO.com on the wider implications of 3D printing.
3D printing isn’t just for specialized industries like healthcare. The technology has great potential and could enable us to create new customer experiences that have not been possible before
I’m currently leg-up, man-down in an Austrian hotel, planning my revenge on the malicious ski lift that tore the ligament in my knee to pieces. Besides planning revenge, I’m both awed at my Austrian doctor’s ability to use one ligament of my leg to replace the one that’s torn up, and disappointed that they haven’t given me a 3D-printed ligament with built-in fitness tracking capabilities. This was my opportunity to become a cyborg — and I’ve missed it.
All of this got me thinking about 3D printing. How will it affect the future, both on a societal level and on the level of your organization? Let me tell you — no matter what industry you’re in — the impact is going to be huge. Sure, we know all about the logistical advantages of 3D printing. But once we get down to printing with all sorts of materials — not just plastics — 3D printing will really go through the roof. Every industry will be majorly impacted.
The process of converting information into a digital format sounds innocuous, but digitization has produced sweeping changes across the business landscape. Indeed, digital transformation is affecting every area of the business, and the supply chain is no exception.
“If, before you [could] manufacture a certain widget, you needed capital-intensive manufacturing capabilities, that’s one kind of supply chain,” Meyer said. “If, now, all I have to do to deliver those same capabilities is put a chip inside some inexpensive components, I’ve moved into a digital electronic assembly world — and that’s a completely different supply chain.”
An example of this effect can be found in the deployment of additive manufacturing, or what’s commonly known as 3D printing. Bain’s Gerstenhaber said using 3D printing in manufacturing can be far more complex than it might seem. Product design, the tools you use and manufacturing layouts for 3D printing can be quite different than in traditional manufacturing.
This blog has previously posted about the marvellous work that is being done by Deutsche Bahn to use 3D printing in its supply chain, particularly in the management of spare parts. Now they are issuing a clarion call to their supply base to increase this!
Deutsche Bahn (DB), a German railway company that generates yearly revenue of almost 40 billion euros, used the Additive Manufacturing Forum Berlin 2017 to encourage suppliers to adopt additive manufacturing technology, which can reduce delivery times and inventory costs for spare parts.
Don’t let its name and businesslike appearance fool you: the 2017 Additive Manufacturing Forum Berlin was for all intents and purposes a speed dating event. Bringing together a huge number of transport, aerospace, and automotive manufacturers, as well as a raft of 3D printing companies, the fair was a chance for additive manufacturing to bat its eyes at manufacturers yet to adopt 3D printing.
Lead times for small or obscure parts can be long and expensive. Sourcing a part can cause delays along the supply chain that cause enough disruption to lose a client. The ability to self-source via 3-D printing can save a company countless days and dollars, even when small manufactures are able to ship a part on the spot.
What 3-D printing provides is a turnkey solution. Through access to CAD files that take up less space than a warehouse, a seller can create a necessary part in minutes rather than wait the days or hours needed to expedite one from a supplier. It can also become its own source provider if it has the capability to print in other mediums such as metal.
According to BizVibe, and as reported by Yahoo Finance:
3D printing (additive manufacturing) reduces dependency on the use of large factories and assembly lines, which is a bonus for businesses dealing with a lack of resources and staff. 3D printing allows for on-demand production even for high-value and high-quality items, making it easier to satisfy customer and industry demands. In the near future, 3D printing could allow supply chains to remain local while also being globally connected, and will reduce the overall time to market for new products and designs.
African organization ReFab Dar are hoping to use 3D printing to create vital medical supplies in Africa and other developing countries. In order to do so they are working on a number of initiatives including a design competition for 3D printed medical tools.
The program’s main aim is exploring, “how plastic waste can power entrepreneurship using 3D printers in Tanzania.” ReFab Dar are currently recycling waste and turning it into 3D printable plastic filament. From this, they intend to create medical supplies, farming equipment and even research tools like microscopes. In this ‘Hack 4 Health’ challenge they are focused initially on the creation of HIV prevention and birthing equipment.
“With 3D printing… some of the supply chain will reshore and come back to the local economies. I think we will see supply chains becoming more regional.”
Frans van Houten, CEO Philips, Davos 2017
Flexibility and autonomy are strong values to prioritize for the future of the supply chain, and 3D printing could bring both of those with it, since it offers solutions for prototype testing. Let’s examine some of the news stories surrounding 3D printing and see how the business could unfold from here.
Car manufacturing: BMW
First of all, it may be increasingly important to look to different types of materials for 3D objects in the future. According to CNET, BMW is taking steps to possibly develop a strategy for metal 3D printing, which could create parts for testing that mimic the real thing more closely than similar prototypes made out of plastic. The process would do this by fusing tiny metal grains together to form a coherent material.