Today, the boom of 3D printing applications is sweeping the world. We can see the figure of 3D printing in many industries, such as manufacturing with 3D printing of aircraft and automotive parts, 3D structural models used in plastic surgery, which undoubtedly does not prove that 3D printing has quietly penetrated to all walks of life.
In the entire supply chain, from manufacturing to logistics and warehousing, 3D printing is increasingly being recognized, accepted and applied. There are already many world-renowned automotive brands in their own supply chains, the use of 3D printing technology to accelerate the development and production of new products, more actively respond to changes in market demand.
Although 3D printing can never be compared with the economies of scale brought by traditional mass production supply chains, 3D printing technology is becoming more powerful and reliable as time progresses, and it is complementing the supply chain and is profoundly driving the transformation and upgrading of the supply chain.
3D printing is bringing unexpected changes to the supply chain. According to Gartner, 38% of supply chain managers are already using 3D printing technology, and 47% plan to start using 3D printing technology in the next two years. By this projection, in two years, 17 out of every 20 supply chain professionals will be using 3D printing technology in their distribution networks.
Today, 3D printing technology is playing an integral role in the supply chain with the following six advantages.
First，Avoiding the negative effects of outsourced production
In 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 warehousing and distribution networks. As a result, a large amount of capital is spent on plant construction, equipment purchase and staffing, making the entire supply chain complex and making it more difficult to manage.
For decades, companies have outsourced their supply chains to companies that use traditional manufacturing methods for economic reasons. However, international freight costs are increasing every year, trade tariff disputes are intensifying, and the risks and costs of international logistics are rising. The time it takes for companies to negotiate with multiple suppliers and independent contractors, as well as communication issues between different time zones and language differences, also make outsourcing more complex. The outsourcing supply chain is becoming more fragmented than ever before, causing it to begin to lose its former advantages.
The end-to-end process enabled by 3D printing is a proven production model and a key advantage of 3D printing. With 3D printing technology, companies can self-produce what would otherwise be an outsourced supply chain through simple and specialized operating software. For example, some companies produce prototypes or even small batches through in-house 3D printing equipment, which can avoid the risk of intellectual property leakage due to the outsourcing of prototyping production.
Second, save time and money by streamlining the supply chain
The return on investment for 3D printing is usually higher compared to outsourcing, and streamlining the supply chain can also save money in many other ways.
1. Transportation Costs
The logistics costs associated with shipping spare parts or low-turnover parts from overseas are very high, and 3D printing can help solve this problem. Simply installing a 3D printer can produce parts on demand. A study has shown that this can help companies save up to 85% on shipping costs.
Excess inventory and low-turnover parts take up a lot of warehouse space. Related studies have also shown that by reducing the amount of finished goods in stock, companies can save up to 17 percent of their costs. 3D printed spare parts can account for more than 20 percent of an average company's unused or excess inventory, according to a report published by DHL. Many automakers need to stock 7-10 years worth of spare parts for every vehicle they produce. With the benefits of 3D printing, factories are able to produce on-demand by being able to do so without the need to prepare inventory in advance.
Based on publicly available data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and manufacturing economic data, it is estimated that the U.S. manufacturing industry costs $4,258,341 per minute to run, with a profit margin of only $22,480 per minute.
Therefore, 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 the use of 3D printing technology to produce individual prototype parts in-house does not appear to offer significant cost savings, the time or money saving effect will be quickly compounded for those large manufacturing facilities.
4. Reduce material waste
3D printing produces parts in a layered fashion. Unlike subtractive manufacturing methods such as CNC machining, additive manufacturing produces consumables only when needed. 3D printing produces parts or tools to the exact specifications provided by the manufacturer and as needed, thus reducing waste.
5. Reduce labor requirements
For U.S. companies, the cost of labor overseas is lower than the cost of U.S. domestic workers. As a result, many manufacturers outsource labor, but by using 3D printing, companies can reduce their reliance on outsourced labor. Thanks to the already improved uptime and reliability of 3D printers, and the fact that web-activated machines can be controlled by intuitive printer management software, a trained worker can manipulate small spare parts at a workstation to achieve production through 3D printing.
Third, making the entire value chain more agile
Traditional supply chains have seen little improvement in responsiveness while increasing in complexity. 3D printing can shorten manufacturing cycles, reduce overseas shipping activities, and virtually eliminate lead times. 3D printing time for parts depends on the complexity of the part and is mostly measured in hours rather than weeks. Using multiple machines makes it easy to increase throughput and meet demand.
The infinite flexibility and great responsiveness that 3D printing offers can help give companies a stronger competitive advantage. As supply chains continue to transition to this modern model, companies can improve efficiency in other areas.
Fourth, leverage the unique product properties of 3D printing
3D printing brings significant advantages to low-volume manufacturing - breaking down geometric constraints. Traditional production methods such as injection molding follow the principle of "design for manufacturing," which limits the shape of the product. 3D printing allows for more efficient design of irregular geometries through generative design patterns, resulting in improved structural performance, material savings, and shorter design-to-manufacturing cycles.
Fifth, Differentiation through on-demand production of parts
Like Uber, which is disrupting the cab industry, and Audemars Piguet, which is disrupting the hotel industry, 3D printing can continue to reinforce the influence of consumers on the supply chain. In an environment where digitalization is powering the "demand economy," there is a perfect synergy between 3D printing and connected manufacturing.
On-demand production of parts can help create finished or "quasi-finished" products with higher levels of personalization (e.g., clothing with personalized printed accessories, cell phone cases with customized designs, ergonomically designed tools for workers).
For traditional supply chains, the on-demand nature of 3D printing can guarantee the availability of products. Essentially, 3D printers can replace "just-in-time" inventory. Virtual warehouses are now a reality, sending 3D model files digitally to the nearest 3D printer.
Sixth, improve customer satisfaction
In the manufacturing industry, the competition between companies is often a competition between supply chains. Embedding 3D printing into the supply chain can improve customer satisfaction and loyalty while companies maintain optimal service levels. For a company, supply chain improvement can achieve faster customer-facing response, with the ability to address diverse needs, thus bringing a better consumer experience to users and allowing the company to stand out in the face of fierce competition.
We have already seen that landlines are being phased out in developing countries due to the popularity of cell phones. People have always favored technologies that are more flexible and require less infrastructure. With the spread of Industry 4.0 technology, 3D printing will revolutionize the current complex traditional supply chain model and bring unexpected changes to the whole industry. Ultimaker will also work closely with outstanding companies through business development to help them improve their supply chain and accelerate the transformation of local digital manufacturing with 3D printing technology.