Year on year, 3D printing is becoming more capable. With the ability to meet the needs of applications more reliably and to create in-house end-use parts, this technology now has the opportunity to simplify the supply chain.
The benefits of doing this are so big that, according to a 2018 Gartner study, 38% of supply chain managers are already using 3D printing, and 47% plan to use it in the next two years. It is therefore important to question whether you too should be implementing this technology into your distribution networks.
But how can this be achieved and what benefits will 3D printing have on your supply chain? Ultimaker’s Senior Vice President of Product Management, Paul Heiden, explains the steps to take to enable an effective and productive supply chain whilst utilising 3D printing.
1 – Avoiding the negative effects of outsourcing
For decades, businesses have outsourced to companies using traditional manufacturing practices – it made financial sense to do so. But as international freight costs increase, and trade tariffs fill more headlines, global logistics is becoming riskier and more expensive.
Add to that the time required to negotiate with multiple suppliers, independent contractors, the challenge of communicating via different times zones, and different languages. More fragmented than ever, outsourced supply chains have begun to lose their lustre.
By contrast, 3D printing’s biggest advantage is that it is not an isolated manufacturing operation. It offers an end-to-end process that serves as a fully fledged production method. Best of all, it doesn’t follow the traditional supply chain method of plan, source, make, deliver, return. It means you can avoid the risk of forecasting demand. After all, if you guess the wrong answer to ‘how many products will I sell?’, that means reduced profitability.
2 – Sourcing simplified supply chains
From saving transport costs to freeing up storage and warehouse spaces, there are a huge number of hidden savings to be gained from supply chain simplification. Team this up with the ability to reduce the amount of money spent on production and the number of materials wasted, and it is evident that implementing 3D print technology is an effective way of running your supply chain.
3 – Make your value chain more agile
Traditional supply chains are not known for their responsiveness. By reducing the manufacturing duration and cutting out overseas transportation, 3D printing almost negates lead times. Depending on their complexity, most printed parts are produced in hours, not weeks. And production output can be easily scaled with multiple machines to meet demand.
By taking advantage of this infinitely flexible and highly responsive order fulfilment, your company will gain a competitive edge. And as you increasingly transform your supply chain to this modern pipeline, you will be able to take advantage of other efficiencies – like shorter product cycles.
4 – A unique product performance
3D printing offers substantial change and geometric freedom when it comes to manufacturing products. This technology allows more exotic and efficient geometries, which can also leverage generative design. And this technique uses AI to improve structural performance, save material use, and further shorten the design-to-manufacturing cycle.
5 – Creating competitive differentiation through on-demand
Consumers have increasing control over supply chains. As digitisation fuels the ‘demand economy’, 3D printing synergises perfectly with connected manufacturing. This on-demand part production provides the opportunity for greater levels of personalisation for finished or almost-finished goods. For example, clothes with personalised printed elements, or a smartphone case with a custom design.
And best of all, when it comes to slow-moving parts, 3D printing offers guaranteed product availability through on-demand manufacture. Essentially, 3D printers can replace your ‘just-in-time’ inventory.
As a recognisable technology, 3D printing will transform the way your supply chain operates. This technology will not only hold multiple benefits for the running of your logistics, but will improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. These factors are all extremely key to any business, offering opportunities that simply shouldn’t be overlooked.