What changes will 3D printing bring to supply chains in the future?

In recent years, the application of 3D printing is sweeping the world. We can see the presence of 3D printing in many industries, such as the manufacturing of 3D printed aircraft and car parts, this is no doubt that 3D printing has infiltrated all industries.

In the entire supply chain, from manufacturing to logistics and warehousing, 3D printing is increasingly recognized, accepted and used. Many world-renowned automobile brands have used 3D printing technology in their supply chains to accelerate the research and development and production of new products, and more actively respond to changes in market demand.

3d printing industry
3d printing industry

Although 3D printing will never be able to compare with the economies of scale brought by the traditional mass production supply chain, with advance of time, 3D printing technology is becoming more powerful and reliable. It is complementary to the supply chain and is profoundly promoting the transformation and upgrading of the supply chain.

According to industry data, 38 percent of supply chains are already using 3D printing technology, and 47 percent of supply chain managers plan to start using 3D printing in the next two years. Two years from now, 17 out of every 20 supply chain professionals will be using 3D printing in their sales networks.

Today, 3D printing is playing an integral role in the supply chain with six advantages.

I, avoid the negative impact of outsourcing production

Under the traditional supply chain model, companies often need to buy raw materials from external suppliers, then produce large quantities in factories, and then distribute them to customers through storage and distribution networks.

Therefore, a large amount of funds are used in plant construction, equipment purchase and personnel allocation, which leads to the complexity of the whole supply chain and increases the difficulty of enterprise management. For decades, companies have outsourced their supply chains to companies using traditional manufacturing methods for economic reasons.

However, international freight costs are increasing year by year, trade tariff disputes are intensifying, and the risks and costs of international logistics are also rising. It is also complicated by the time companies need to negotiate with multiple suppliers and independent contractors, as well as communication issues at different intervals and language differences. The outsourced supply chain is becoming more fragmented than ever, making it lose its edge.

The end-to-end process enabled by 3D printing is a mature production model and a key advantage of 3D printing. With 3D printing technology, companies can turn an outsourced supply chain into their own production with simple and professional operating software.

For example, some companies use in-house 3D printing equipment to make prototypes or even small batches, which can avoid the risk of intellectual property leakage due to outsourcing prototype production.

II, Save time and money by simplifying the supply chain

Compared with outsourcing, 3D printing typically offers a higher return on investment, and simplifying the supply chain offers many other cost savings.

1. cost of transportation

The logistics costs of shipping spare parts or low-turnover parts from overseas are very high, and 3D printing can help solve this problem. A 3D printer can be installed to produce parts on demand. According to one study, this can help companies save up to 85% on shipping costs.

2. warehousing

Excess inventory and low-turnover parts take up a lot of storage space. The study also showed that by reducing the inventory of finished products, companies could save 17% of their costs. Reports released by DHL show that 3D-printed spare parts can account for more than 20 percent of an average company’s unused or excess inventory.

Many car manufacturers need to stock up on spare parts for 7-10 years for every car they make. With the advantage of 3D printing, the factory can achieve on-demand production, without the need to prepare inventory in advance.

3. Increase profit margin

Based on publicly available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and manufacturing economic data estimates, the operating cost of manufacturing in the United States is $4,258,341 / min and the profit margin is only $22,480 / min.

So if 3D printing can reduce the time it takes to produce, even by a minute, an hour, a week or a month, then it can have a positive impact on large industries.

While using 3D printing to produce individual prototype parts in-house may not seem like much of a cost saver, the savings in time or money will add up quickly for large manufacturing plants.

4. Reduce material waste

3D printing produces parts in layers. Unlike reduced material manufacturing methods such as CNC machining, additive manufacturing produces consumables only when needed. 3D printing reduces waste by producing parts or tools according to the exact specifications provided by the manufacturer and as needed.

5. Reduce manpower requirements

For American companies, labor costs are lower overseas than in the United States. As a result, many manufacturers will outsource labor services, but if 3D printing is used, enterprises can reduce their dependence on labor outsourcing.

Thanks to the improved running time and reliability of 3D printers, and the fact that web-enabled machines can be controlled with intuitive printer management software, a trained worker can 3D print small spare parts from a workstation.

III, Make the entire value chain more agile

While the complexity of traditional supply chains is increasing, there is little improvement in their responsiveness. 3D printing can shorten manufacturing cycles, reduce overseas shipping activities, and almost eliminate lead times.

The 3D printing time of a part depends on the complexity of the part and is more likely to be measured in hours rather than weeks. Using multiple machines can easily increase production to meet demand.

The unlimited flexibility and strong responsiveness of 3D printing can help enterprises have a stronger competitive advantage. As supply chains continue to shift to this modern model, companies can improve efficiency in other areas.

IIII, make full use of the unique product performance of 3D printing

3D printing brings a significant advantage to manufacturing in small batches — breaking the limits of geometry. Traditional production methods such as injection molding follow the principle of “manufacturing-oriented design”, which limits product shape.

By generating design patterns, 3D printing can design irregular geometric shapes more efficiently, so as to improve the structural performance of products, save materials, and shorten the design to the manufacturing cycle.

V, Differentiation through on-demand production of parts

3D printing can continuously enhance consumers’ influence on the supply chain. In an environment where digitisation is powering the “economy of demand”, there is a perfect synergy between 3D printing and connected manufacturing.

For the traditional supply chain, the on-demand production characteristics of 3D printing can ensure the supply of products. Basically, 3D printers can replace “just-in-time” inventory. Virtual warehouses are now a reality that digitally sends 3D model files to the nearest 3D printer.

VI, Improve customer satisfaction

In the manufacturing industry, competition between enterprises is often between supply chains. Embedding 3D printing into the supply chain can improve customer satisfaction and loyalty while maintaining optimal service levels.

For an enterprise, through the improvement of the supply chain, it can realize faster response speed to customers and adaptability to various demands, so as to bring better consumption experience to users and make the enterprise stand out in the fierce competition.

We are already seeing landlines being phased out in developing countries due to the proliferation of mobile phones. People will always prefer technologies that are more flexible and require less infrastructure. With the popularization of Industry 4.0 technology, 3D printing will revolutionize the current complex traditional supply chain model and bring unexpected changes to the entire industry.

Our company will also work closely with outstanding enterprises through business development, with 3D printing technology to help enterprises improve the supply chain, and accelerate the transformation of local digital manufacturing, if you have a need for 3D printing services, Feel free to contact us any time.

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