3D Printing and Its Impact on the Supply Chain

In September 1, 2015

As 3D printing continues to take a more prominent role in manufacturing, there’s no doubt it’s transforming the supply chain as we know it. Industries of all kinds are beginning to understand the potential of the technology. And with increased adoption, we soon will see big changes in the manufacturing process as well as the supply chain process which surround it. Here are three ways we expect the process to continue to evolve as a result:

Improved Access to Manufacturing Aids

Jigs, fixtures and other tools are very important to the success of assembly lines. Unfortunately, they can be cost- and time-prohibitive to develop. With the rise of 3D printing, custom parts, molds and other manufacturing aids can be made onsite, making them easier and often times more affordable to produce and implement.

3D printingExpanded Production Capabilities

It’s becoming more common during some manufacturing processes to use 3D printing for end product creation. Rather than transfer from 3D printing to injection molding, for example, manufacturers are discovering that 3D printing can match or sometimes improve upon more conventional production methods. Overhead can be lowered. Turnaround shortened. When volume may not justify the expense of tooling, molding and more, 3D printing can often offer a workable solution.

Increased Virtual Inventory

Why keep a warehouse full of a product when you can 3D print on demand? That’s the potential benefit of virtual inventory. It works like this: Product designs are saved as files on a computer or in the cloud. When an order comes in for a product, the appropriate file is accessed, the product is printed and then shipped directly to the consumer. While this method is a long way off for more complex product designs, many smaller manufacturers have already put it in play—and the demand will only grow as 3D printing technology evolves and improves.

So as you can see, though 3D printing currently is considered a fringe technology, the possibilities and potential it offers could make a huge impact on the supply chain. A change is coming—and much sooner than we might think.

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