Saturday, October 26, 2013

3d printing goes mainstream

As my readers know I have been talking about 3D printing for a long time and have been theorizing and brainstorming how this will impact manufacturing, supply chain and the overall method of acquiring goods.  From one of my first posts back in 2012 titled "Don't Reduce Costs - Eliminate Them" through the many others I really believe this is a major change in how goods will get to market.

And, of course, when we were first talking about this topic it appeared to many to be "Star Wars" type conversation but I will tell you it appears to be almost mainstream now.  Many at the recent Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference in Denver were talking about it.  There was even a display!

Now the question is not whether the technology will exist or even if it will be affordable but rather what are the innovative and exciting ways it can be applied.  Unfortunately, the press is all over the fact that people are making gun parts with it.  But here are some revolutionary ways this can be applied to the supply chain:

  1. Development cycle times cut dramatically:  Imagine when you can "print" prototype parts immediately and on demand as you build prototype products?  The idea of rapid prototyping  really becomes a reality and this technology drives this.  So, supply chains have to be ready for rapid deployment of new products.  Where supply chains might have had 3-5 years to plan and get ready for a new product to flow, they many now only have 6 months.  The "bottleneck" in new product development may have just shifted. 
  2. Batch Sizes decrease to just about 1:  The bane of supply chains is when you can get to 1x1 or batch sizes of one.  By nature, supply chains like huge batch sizes as this helps:
    • Inventory
    • Procurement
    • Shipping (Full shipments)
    • Receiving
    • Change overs in plants
    • Tooling and machinery
    Now the question is how will supply chains adapt to true batch sizes of one.  "Make on demand"  will be a reality and people need to be ready to deal with it. 
  3. Really small shipments:  People have always talked about the "push - pull" between reducing logistics costs by increasing shipment size (full truckloads - fullest the furthest) and the flexibility and agility of small shipments.  Most want both.  3D printing will bring a lot more demand on smaller shipments and even shipments of "one".  This will really benefit companies such as UPS and FEDEX at the expense of truckload and intermodal.  
So, the conversation has moved from "Can that really be done" to "Looks like it can be done" to "Yes, it absolutely can be done now how do we leverage and exploit the new technology. 

There are a lot more and I look forward to engaging on the other ideas which will develop.  I look forward to any comments you may have.  

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