For many manufacturers, waiting weeks or months for replacement parts, tools, or raw materials is a huge supply chain hassle. And a costly one. It could mean significant downtime for production lines or even a complete shutdown.

One way to avoid the delay is to keep a large inventory of parts and tools, but many companies struggle with this in their supply chain systems. Lack of storage space, low demand, or budget concerns can make having a robust inventory nearly impossible.

So, in the past, when they’ve run into a crisis situation where they need replacement parts immediately, the options were very limited. So much, so that production lines sitting idle was a definite possibility.

That’s where additive manufacturing comes in. Also known as 3D printing, this disruptive innovation is having widespread impacts on global supply chains and operations. 

Results from the Digital Manufacturing Report in late 2020, which surveyed 2,175 3D printing and digital manufacturing decision-makers, showed that respondents believe additive manufacturing can have a significant impact on supply chains and make companies more agile. Other key findings included:

  • 92% were investigating new supply chain models
  • 79% said additive manufacturing helps their company be more flexible
  • 88% believed governments should encourage investment in digital manufacturing technologies
  • 81% said it’s important to have collaboration across sectors to embrace digital manufacturing

In what specific ways can additive manufacturing be utilized to rectify common supply chain issues and potentially give companies a competitive advantage? Here are five ways to consider:

  1. Increased product customization – Additive manufacturing provides manufacturers with the ultimate freedom to customize products to clients’ specific requirements and improve the customer experience. This results in more agile supply chains that can adapt quickly to changes in the market like demand, budget constraints, or other significant factors. It also presents the possibility of combining design, production, and distribution into one supply chain function to better involve clients in the design and production process.
  2. Reduced complexity and improved time-to-market – 3D printing technology fuses the number of components and processes required for the manufacturing process. This directly impacts supply chains by decreasing complexities, trimming production costs, shortening lead times, and accelerating time-to-market.
  3. Streamlined inventory and logistics – As production transitions to more of an ‘on demand’ model, the need to transport physical goods around the world is being reduced. In addition, lower SKU requirements for production are impacting warehousing and logistics. That means companies can more easily overcome tariff costs, which improves the bottom line.
  4. Improved resource efficiency – Because 3D printing is a ‘greener,’ more energy-efficient, and cost-efficient production method, efficiency is impacted for the better. Additive manufacturing creates almost zero waste, minimizes excess inventory, and reduces the carbon footprint. Efficiency is vastly improved by the ability to access parts from a digital (rather than physical) inventory and then quickly 3D print them anywhere, any time in the exact quantity needed. The digital inventory can be kept on a local or central disk or in the cloud. This avoids unnecessary overproduction and waste.
  5. Capability to produce locally – 3D printing allows for the enhanced capability to produce an assembly of several parts all at the same time. That means using a single raw material rather than needing to get a hold of multiple parts and then assembling them. The reason this is possible is that additive manufacturing has basically no geometric restrictions, which isn’t the case with other manufacturing techniques.

For these reasons and others, additive manufacturing technology is helping companies in many sectors from transportation to medical. It’s allowing them to overcome challenges that have hindered manufacturing for decades.

For more information about Pamton 3D’s capabilities and how we can help with your next 3D prototype, click here

Sources

Solel, I. (2018, October 17). Additive Manufacturing and the Supply Chain: Opportunities and Risks. Supply Chain Brain. https://www.supplychainbrain.com/blogs/1-think-tank/post/28877-additive-manufacturing-and-the-supply-chain-opportunities-and-risks.

Davies, S. (2020, October 26). Interview: HP’s Ramon Pastor on 3D printing’s role in supply chain resiliency, sustainability & mass customisation. TCT Magazine. https://www.tctmagazine.com/additive-manufacturing-3d-printing-news/additive-manufacturing-supply-chain-news/hp-ramon-pastor-3d-printing-supply-chain-mass-customisation/.

The Essentium Team. (2020, August 12). Essentium Makes Additive Manufacturing-Powered Supply Chains a Reality. Essentium. https://www.essentium.com/additive-manufacturing-supply-chain/#:~:text=Additive%20manufacturing%20is%20a%20technology,%2C%20manufacturers%20can’t%20manufacture.

Knowles, S. (2019, March 6). Five Ways 3D Printing Will Impact The Global Supply Chain. Maine Pointe. https://www.mainepointe.com/practical-insights/five-ways-3d-printing-will-impact-the-global-supply-chain.

Molcho, M. (2020, May 17). Additive manufacturing’s rise as an enabler of supply chain efficiencies: Digital Supply Chain. Supply Chain Digital. https://supplychaindigital.com/supply-chain-2/additive-manufacturings-rise-enabler-supply-chain-efficiencies.