Introduction

As we’ve witnessed through the first quarters of 2020, supply chain disruptions have impacted critical supply items, required manufacturers to shift production lines for in-demand products, and some manufacturers have remained in costly standstill situations due to a reliance on non-domestic manufacturing sources which are seeing similar negative impacts. It is in times like these that manufacturers have to adopt new processes of production to meet the requirement of quality, customer satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness.

Additive manufacturing, widely known as 3D printing technology, has been one of the revolutionary innovations in the global production and supply chain industry.

In the first and 2nd industrial revolution, we have seen life-changing innovations such as electricity, fossil fuel, IC engine, chemical industry, telecommunications, rail,etc.

All of these innovations completely disrupted the industry norms and enabled significant improvement in productivity gains, which totally changed the global manufacturing industry and improved the quality of life.

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is considered as the third industrial revolution. It will induce changes in numerous business models, and it can offer a cost-effective, competitive advantage, especially to the medium and the small businesses.

Whether revolutionary or evolutionary, additive manufacturing technology is going to have a significant impact on the supply chain system globally. Small and medium businesses have already started to integrate 3D printing into their manufacturing processes. Still, the most significant potential to disrupt the global supply chain lies within the industrial application and how quickly more prominent manufacturing companies integrate 3D printing in their manufacturing process.

In this article, we will go over the advantages of Additive Manufacturing and the ways it can disrupt the global supply chain.

Advantages of AM over traditional manufacturing

  1. Design Unification

One of the most significant benefits of Additive Manufacturing is that it can develop intricate designs with high precision. This cuts costs and eliminates the delay due to documentation, product planning, and quality inspection. Everything is computerized. So the labor requirement is also minimum. This overall reduction in manufacturing footprint also translates to a decreased risk of local and global demand shortage, labor cost, transportation cost, and trade regulations.

  1. Agility in Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing allows the production process to work flexibly. This ability to be agile encourages the ultimate freedom when it comes to designing and producing. It helps the manufacturer to serve a wide range of customer groups or provide diversity within their own capabilities. This agility in manufacturing helps the manufacturer to continually adopt the current trends and adopt “on-demand” manufacturing.

  1. Minimal Waste, High Value

In 3D printing, digital objects are brought to life layer by layer utilizing material for the required part volume. This type of additive production allows for the building of unique and complex designs, component count reduction, and optimized performance. There is no stock material or end-effectors to get in the way. Whereas traditional, subtractive methods used to build a product or manufacture a tool often results in wasted stock material and additional process steps or components to make a complete product.

  1. Less Need for Tools

As 3D printing is a semi-automated and free-form process, the need for tooling is almost minimal which results in less production delays and tool faults can be mitigated. Furthermore, the associated cost of tools and extra time of production are also eliminated along with maintenance, repair, scrap, and storage.

  1. Less Inventory

With “on-demand” manufacturing and elimination of heavy tools, there is no need for a big inventory. Outside storage and warehouse storage also can be reduced, resulting in less requirements for infrastructure and the related maintenance costs.

  1. Manufacturing Decentralization

A single 3D printer can produce multiple components at once; either copies of the same product, customized variations, or various unique components. So a sizable, fixed-rate, and centralized assembly line is not required for production. Instead, a more versatile manufacturing space can to created that utilizes multiple 3D printers to scale up production. This formula can than be copied and located more locally to areas of need or integrated into a logistics supply chain for direct shipment.

Challenges of Additive Manufacturing

We can all see that Additive manufacturing has different benefits that will help to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. However, there are specific challenges with Additive Manufacturing as well.

Additive Manufacturing is very efficient when it comes to low volume, complicated production. But to manufacture high volume production, some challenges arise.

  1. It’s expensive – Initial setup of Additive Manufacturing machines are costly. These are new and developing technology platforms that are also ever changing. Whereas today’s traditional manufacturing systems are becoming more commoditized.
  2. Long production time – Because of technology size limits, complexity of the design, and the high accuracy of the technology, production time can be higher than expected for specific components.
  3. Material cost and limitations – The raw materials used in 3D printing are more expensive compared to the commoditized stock materials found in injection molding and CNC machining. There are also less material options available for any given process by comparison to traditional manufacturing processes.

Affect of Additive Manufacturing on Supply Chain

Constant improvements are happening in 3D printing technology in terms of size, accuracy, speed, and quality. Because of that, the potential of 3D printing technology is massive in the future.

This innovation in Additive Manufacturing has the potential to disrupt the supply chain, and the manufacturing industries have to be prepared to adapt to a changing environment.

Below, we present seven key areas that will be affected by 3D printing technologies.

  1. Mass Customization

3D printing technologies have a remarkable effect on the production and distribution side. With immense flexibility, mass customization will be the new norm. This means individualized offers with each customer and client. Customized integration through designing into production can shift priorities of cost and profit management and make the supply chain more agile to make necessary changes depending on the marketplace.

  1. Resource Efficiency

Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing has greater resource efficiency compared to any other type of production.

  • 3D printing can encourage the use of recycled materials into production.
  • 3D printing uses advanced computerized technologies to develop intricate designs with minimal wastage, thereby promoting a greener, environment-friendly technological evolution.
  • With the portable 3D printing technologies, production is closer than ever to the market. It is thereby reducing the cost of transportation and carbon emissions.
  1. Decentralization of Manufacturing

The days are gone when manufacturing was only limited to factories. With the help of 3D printing, on-location production, as well as a quick response to design changes, decentralization of manufacturing can be possible.

  • 3D printing has enabled production to be done on location thus bringing the transportation cost down.
  • 3D printing is a semi-automated process, and it doesn’t need the same skills as conventional manufacturing. It makes it easier to change the location and migrate closer to its target market.
  1. Complexity Reduction

3D printing eliminates all the complexities of the manufacturing process. By replacing multiple assembly lines with a single semi-automated process, the manufacturing process can be simplified significantly.

Complexity reduction helps lower the number of different machinery required in the assembly line, thereby reducing the cost significantly.

  1. Disruption in Inventory and Transportation

3D printing allows production to happen on location and on-demand. This disrupts the need for transportation of goods from one place to another. Furthermore, the need for physical transit will be replaced by digital file transfer such as 3D product model file and product portfolio.

  1. Prototype

In Additive Manufacturing, the maximum portion of the product planning and designing happens on a computer. And it can produce a vast range of output very quickly and cheaply. Therefore, 3D printers play a crucial role in creating prototypes for innovative projects and updating an existing product design.

At this stage the customer is directly involved in the designing process, which makes it easier to develop and make necessary adjustments in design with the help of customer feedback. Further improving the speed to market opportunity.

  1. Legal

With all these advantages, 3D printing also brings some legal concerns such as physical injury, intellectual property threat, and product liability.

The rapid increase in 3D printing technology also increases the spread of open-source modeling software. It is thereby increasing the possibility of legal misconduct.

Scanning technology integrated with 3D printing can produce an exact duplicate of existing products. This can generate some legal and security concerns.

For example, who will take responsibility for 3D printing spare parts or repair parts. Maybe you downloaded a file from your vacuum cleaner manufacture to repair a drive gear and built it at home?. Who will be responsible if product dysfunctions or fails? You, the designer, the manufacturer of the machine, or the material supplier?

Conclusion

Thanks to the super flexibility and market capabilities, additive manufacturing is already in use in critical manufacturing industries, such as aerospace and automotive manufacturing. 3D printing is also experiencing increased capabilities in the medical manufacturing sector and several other consumer industries(sports, luxury, and home apparatus).

These penetrations indicate why Additive Manufacturing is disruptive for the supply chain industry and how the manufacturing industries have to change to improve their existing process to stay relevant to the industry.