How Will 3D Printing Affect Supply Chain?

How Will 3D Printing Affect Supply Chain?

Image via Flickr by makerbot

Globalization, collaborative planning, and new technologies are changing the way companies manage their supply chains this year. Most modern advancements make it easier to develop an effective supply chain strategy, but 3D printing has the potential to completely change the way consumers shop and, more importantly, it could change the way companies do business.

Logistics and Shipping

Freight carriers and warehousing professionals will see the biggest impact. “A proportion of goods which were previously produced in China or other Asia markets could be ‘near-sourced’ to North America and Europe. This would reduce shipping and air cargo volumes,” says John Manners-Bell, CEO of Transport Intelligence. The distance between consumers and manufacturers will diminish, eliminating the need for long-distance transport.

Cost Reduction and Customization

With traditional supply chain strategies, retail stores limit consumers to the products choose to carry. 3D printing allows shoppers to customize an item so that it best suits their needs before sending it to the printer for production. A 3D printer can instantly produce items that would need more resources to make with traditional techniques. Companies would cut costs, while customers would get quality products tailored specifically to their needs.

Increased Sustainability

Widespread use of 3D printing will make the supply chain much more sustainable. “New technologies which are currently being developed could revolutionize production techniques, resulting in a significant proportion of manufacturing becoming automated and removing reliance on large and costly work forces.” said Manners-Bell. This sort of manufacturing process also produces less waste and is more efficient than traditional methods. A shift to local sourcing and local procurement will sharply contrast current globalization trends, reducing transport emissions tremendously.

A future with 3D printing could hold many benefits for the consumer, as well as manufacturers and suppliers. The supply chain we’re accustomed to, however, will never be the same.

Comments

  1. Very interesting article! As a student at the University at Buffalo working on a Business Admin degree with a concentration in Supply Chain and Operations Management, as well as a minor in Environmental Studies, I am very intrigued by the concept of 3D printing as a way to help supply chains become more green. I can imagine the spare part supply process, at a minimum, will be impacted.

    As a student I wonder, though — how do you feel this technology will impact the Supply Chain / Logistics occupation? Seems like there is the potential for some significant changes in the future. I’m excited!

    Kyle Ephraim

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