How 3D Printing Will Affect The Supply Chain Industry

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Embry-Riddle, TIACA, and Magaya Team Up to Discuss How 3D printing Will Affect Supply Chain Management

As we enter a new decade, we take a quick scan of the world around us. Technology is rapidly advancing with each passing moment. The way we’ve done things for centuries is changing with the help of smart tech and smarter people, consistently altering processes that have been static, like the supply chain.

One of those advancements in modern technology? 3D printing.

Whether you’re familiar with 3D printing or not, it’s making its way through our modern-day industries. Though it’s not yet a 100 percent reliable process for creating the products the public uses today, it’s steadily becoming a much more dependable, consistent process. And of course, as technology continues to advance, it will only become more integral into our modern-day processes. So, it goes without saying that, in no time at all, 3D printing and its associated properties are bound to affect and change the supply chain as we know it.

Many people consider the implementation of 3D printing as the doorway to the 4th Industrial Revolution, especially Dr. Bob Walton.

Dr. Walton, an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, joined us for a free-wheeling discussion on 3D manufacturing in a recent webinar. In it, he shares his thoughts on 3D printing, explains its processes, and best of all, elaborates on what we can expect for the future of the supply chain when considering the scope of 3D printing.

Though his views on 3D printing are largely positive, he takes us through an enticing perspective of the good, the bad, and the often-unconsidered factors that could affect a supply chain driven by 3D printing. But, we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s cover the basics of 3D printing with a few quick notes that Dr. Walton shared during his webinar.

What Exactly is 3D Printing?

Most people—whether they’re involved in an industry using a supply chain or not—have heard of 3D printing. In fact, most folks who attended our webinar featuring Dr. Walton (about 96 percent, actually) were well aware of the term 3D printing. But, ask yourself, do you truly know what 3D printing is?

According to Dr. Walton 3D printing is also known as three-dimensional printing, or additive manufacturing (sometimes referred to as AM). This is the process of making three-dimensional objects by gradually laying down successive layers of material in an additive fabrication process.

3D printing is crucial when it comes to technology, process creation, and businesses for several reasons. In terms of the supply chain, 3D printing allows businesses (like you) to produce parts on-demand without the need for tooling and setups, and generally allows for on-site customization for parts. At the end of the day, that means you can house less inventory in your warehouse (which is essentially like money sitting on shelves) without losing the ability to provide for customers near your actual customer base.

Anything that’s liquid (in theory) can be 3D printed. Obviously, in the current state of technology, every product we used can’t yet, be 3D printed.

For example, a complex item like an iPhone with a myriad of materials, components, and composites. But that doesn’t mean that can’t happen. The long-term reality of 3D printing is that most items, if not all items, can be 3D printed.

When that’s going to happen? Dr. Walton says we can’t be sure. But one thing is certain-that day is coming.

How Prevalent is 3D Printing Today?

That being said, just because 3D printing isn’t quite to the point of mass-production in all industries yet doesn’t mean it’s not being utilized.

Thus far, 3D printing has been used in numerous experiments. They’ve printed heart valves, a 500-square foot house (in less than 12 hours, by the way), and it’s even been used in the GE9X and leap engines—in other words, it’s been used in jet engine fuel nozzles.

In the past, those nozzles had to be produced as 20 different pieces, but with 3D printing, those nozzles are able to be produced as a single piece. Because their structure is so intricate, 3D printing is one of the only practical ways to mass-produce them. And those jet engine fuel nozzles were included in the successful maiden flight of GE9X in March 2018.

How Does 3D Printing Impact the Supply Chain?

And, potentially a more poignant and important question, how exactly does 3D printing impact affect you?

It’s no secret that supply chains, when run well, can dramatically shape the success of a business. An efficient supply chain improves customer service, reduces cycle time (the time it takes to complete a business transaction), reduces inventory cost, allows for production specialization and customization, and provides time and place utility.

So, to truly get to the point—and exactly why we had this webinar in the first place—we ask the most important question—how can 3D printing and 3D manufacturing impact the supply chain overall?

There are a few different ways that 3D printing impacts the supply chain, so let’s break them down one-by-one.

  • Sends Us Back to the Cottage Industry—this takes us back to the cottage industry when everything was produced in the factory itself. For example, when the local seamstress was down the street or the local blacksmith was across the block. This allows us to go back to mass production plans on a decentralized level.
  • Centralized Mass Production Plants Will Decrease—this will likely eliminate, or at least greatly reduce the need, for transportation in almost all industries. One outlier here would likely be livestock.
  • Customization at the Source—this will provide customers the option to customize their product orders on-site, even if you don’t have the supply in warehouse.
  • Reduce Logistics Cost—suppliers won’t need to keep mass quantities of supply in stock, essentially keeping all of their cashflow on shelves going to waste. 3D printing will greatly reduce logistical costs.
  • Reduce Inventory—less stock needed in-house, less inventory to clog shelves and cost suppliers valuable time and money.
  • Less Chance of an Upset in the Supply Chain—factors out of your control (like natural disasters or transportation issues) won’t be as much as an issue if you’re able to create products in-house via a 3D printer.

But the impact from 3D printing on the supply chain isn’t all positive, Dr. Walton said. Like anything, there’s give and take. There are, unfortunately, a few negatives or factors to consider when we think about how 3D printing could change the supply chain, including things like:

  • Quality Control—who’s running quality control for 3D parts? Are suppliers in charge of this? Are customers? How would this feasibly work?
  • Counterfeiting—this is especially poignant for products that relate to safety or security industries. How do we deliberate between certified 3D printed parts and counterfeit parts?
  • Legal Issues—who owns the 3D printing designs? Who is responsible for design changes or damages? How will 3D printing affect gun production?

The system isn’t perfect, and just as with any new technology, there are bumps in the road to work out. But one thing is for certain, 3D printing is coming our way, and it’s undoubtedly going to affect the supply chain.

Magaya is proud to be a multifaceted solution for multifaceted customers. Wherever supply chains are concerned you’ll find Magaya there, front and center, to help solve, resolve, and simplify any issue that arises. We pride ourselves on listening to our clients and engaging in adaptive behavior—meaning that no matter what changes our supply chain sees in the coming year (5, 10, 20, or even 100), Magaya will be there to work with you and for you as we evolve together, continually providing you with solutions you need to make sure your business runs smoothly.

Our software is designed to help you improve your supply chain workflow—in other words, we’ll never just stick an automation Band-aid on your logistical problems and call it a day. Instead, our software will improve your workflow, streamline your process, and leave you with enough time and energy to do what you do best—run your business well.

If you’re ready to know more about our program, want to see how Magaya software can fit into your workflow, and even discuss how Magaya can work hand-in-hand with you to develop a software solution that fits your 3D printing plans, click here to be put in direct contact with a Magaya representative! Call in, send us an email, however you want to do it—we can help put you on the right track and schedule a free demo to show how Magaya can help your business!

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