3D Printing: A game changer for digitized supply chains

3D printing can be a game-changer for logistics and resolve many reverse logistics and last mile challenges

Imagine living in a world, where any object your imagination conceives can be turned into a reality through a 3D printer from the comfort of your home.  This is no longer a staple of science fiction and is close to mirroring reality owing to the advancements in 3D printing technology. However, the biggest implications of 3D printing advancements are unequivocally for the supply chain.  For instance, if a complex engineering part breaks down mid-transit then that is no longer a problem as the onboard 3D printer or in-warehouse 3D printer can get it fixed. This does away with the dilemma of expensive reverse logistics that have been plaguing supply chains for so long.

According to the white paper New Supply Chain Technology Best Practices1 by the Global Supply Chain Institute: Some supply chain specialists anticipate 3D printing could someday equal the effect of Henry Ford’s assembly line. This is a technology that has the potential to assist businesses in dramatically lowering costs, overcoming geopolitical risks/tariffs, improving customer service, lowering their carbon impact, and driving innovation for a competitive advantage.[/box]Whether you believe the technology will revolutionize the production and supply chain process or merely enhance it, you cannot afford to ignore it.

3D printing also confers many benefits such as no waste, light and stable outcomes, can be customized on the go, point of sale production, and reduces CO2 emissions.  While 3D printing is adaptable for various use cases, it is ideal for situations where production is in small batches at present, such as logistics.  Based on insights from bizibl logistics, let’s take a look at how 3D printing can change logistics and help reduce lead times as well as costs.

Mass customization and decentralized production

It is expected that more and more sectors will invest in 3D printing based on how quickly the various 3D print technologies have evolved thus far. Manufacturers from many sectors are consulting with experts and conducting experiments to see which items they can create utilising 3D printing technology in the future.

According to DHL’s Logistics Trend Radar, additive manufacturing will expand at a pace of 13.5 percent each year. According to a 2013 research, the worldwide market would rise from USD 1.8 billion in 2012 to USD 3.5 billion in 2017. According to a McKinsey research, the logistics market would be worth USD 550 billion by 2025, according to the 2014 Logistics Trend Radar report.

Experts reckon that 3D printing supports local and regional manufacturing, and that 3D print centres will grow up near sales marketplaces in the next 20 years. Many firms used to outsource their production to Asia to save money. They may now “nearshoring” their production back to high-wage nations thanks to 3D printing. The number of warehouses and logistics infrastructure needed would also get reduced owing to advances in 3D printing.

Better last-mile logistics

The goal of 3D printing technology is to eliminate the need for goods to be sent halfway around the world since they can be created close to the user. But for now, the idea that in 35 years we will only be shipping raw materials and 3D print cartridges is still just a faraway vision. Continuous globalisation is one of the megatrends of tomorrow, according to DHL’s Logistics Trend Radar, which was released for the second time in 2014. The proliferation of 3D printing might stymie the globalisation trend. But it is still unclear how great an impact 3D print technology will have. Forecasters are also cautious when it comes to the overall impact of 3D printing on transport volumes. Logistics Trend Radar names 3D printing as one of the technology trends whose full impact will not become clear for at least 5 years and ranks the potential as “moderate,” not “significant.

This hesitancy stems from apprehension about 3D printing’s ability to replace existing industrial techniques. As a result, it’s impossible to say if or how much the expansion of 3D printing technology will influence worldwide transportation volumes. Routes are expected to change, with fewer finished goods being delivered from far away. Meanwhile, the importance of local production sites close to consumer markets will increase. Initially, this would mean an increase in “last mile” shipping.

Finally, the intrinsic ‘green’ benefits of 3D printing can help make the world a little more sustainable with a more optimized use of resources in specific scenarios. With advancements in additive manufacturing approaches, the use cases for 3D printing are expected to increase across. Presently, the most prevalent use cases for 3D printing are in aerospace and defense apart from logistics, where the opportunities are being explored.

– Lionel Alva

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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