Monday, December 1, 2014

3D Printer and the future of Supply Chain

3D printing has come a long way in an extremely short span of time. Initially built by Charles Hull in the 1980s as a tool for making basic polymer objects [1]. Today, the technology has made impact on several manufacturing areas; from building aircraft and race car components, to human organs and prostheses.
Now, the world is beginning to understand the potential of 3D printing for cost-effective, efficient and environmentally-friendly manufacturing. It is little wonder that analyst firm, Canalys see the global market for 3D printers reaching $16.2bn (£10.3bn) by 2018 [2]. With increasing adoption, the technology will revolutionize manufacturing as well as the supply chain and logistics processes which surrounds it.
Though manufacturing in certain locations, for example in China and India, can be low-cost, managing a global supply chain network isn’t, especially considering the transportation costs involved. 3D printing can reduce these costs by enabling businesses to station local manufacturing centers closer to every regional markets, reducing the length of the supply chain and helping towards a green world. Regional manufacturing centers can also improve inventory problems, especially for the industrial spare parts and consumer sectors selling highly-customized products. 3D printing technology will enable manufacturers to easily produce goods to order, helping save money and minimize waste.
As the cost of 3D printing decreases, we will see a lot of manufacturing businesses emerge, responsible for providing cheap products such as small replacement parts. 3D printing will eventually replace traditional manufacturers to only producing highly technical and specialist products. Less specialist products will be manufactured by 3D shops, while cheap one-off manufacturing will eventually be printed by consumers themselves. In the future, simple spare parts, plastic toys or cases for smartphones for example, will primarily be sold globally by downloading a 3D printing file.
In a world where consumers want products fast, 3D printing will make it possible for businesses to consistently deliver goods in tighter timescales. It will also help to meet customers’ growing demands for personalized products. Personalization is already happening in the clothing and footwear market; consumers can walk into a store, for example Nike, customize items and take them home on the same day. In the future, 3D printing might even be used to build personalized furniture or complex goods like vehicles for same-day collection too.
Much of what’s been outlined is still some time away but it’s clear that the potential increased pace of trade brought on by 3D printing and the new industry models that are created will require businesses to re-evaluate their supply chain processes. Manufacturers will need to make their supply chains far more agile and able to operate in real-time to cope with faster product design and production cycles.

There is a concern that this form of manufacturing, in particular with regards to consumer goods, will fuel greater consumption and waste. But the materials used for 3D-printing these goods are mostly heat processed recyclable plastics, making it possible to create a reverse supply chain approach. Customers can recycle used, damaged or unwanted goods by taking them back to their local 3D print shops, so that they can be melted back down and made into something new and useable once more.
My question about 3D printer is that is this techniques would be restricted to only customized product? Because batch manufacturing will still be more effective and low-cost. How to balance the reduced transportation cost by regional manufacturing and the increased cost of goods by 3D printer?


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