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3D Printing's Impact on the Global Supply Chain

28/04/2021


​​​​​​​An overview of the 3D printing industry

Up till now, 3D printing has mostly be used for prototyping. However, some industries are going a step further. The hearing aid industry has shifted gears and is now using 3D printing to produce its final products. Other sectors are projected to follow suit, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The advantages of using 3D printing to create an optimised supply chain outweigh the disadvantages. The on-demand option that's made possible via 3D printing reduces storage and inventory requirements, eliminating unnecessary costs. The master digital file enables companies to produce duplicates of a particular product at no extra cost, from any part of the globe. Therefore, companies are increasingly using 3D printing to effectively print prototypes, parts, and finished goods without continually relying on third parties. 

 

In 2019 and 2020, more than 94% of Fortune 1000  businesses reported that the health crisis has significantly impacted their supply chain - primarily due to heavy reliance on importing goods from Asia. The pandemic highlighted the downside of relying on traditional systems, and companies' urgency to adopt innovative and flexible production modes to stay relevant in the current global climate.

The key benefits of 3D printing

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a wake-up call for those industries who previously dismissed 3D printing. 3D printing proved instrumental in manufacturing medical equipment and critical apparatus such as ventilators - saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

Therefore, 3D printing can be a viable solution for shortages that many manufacturers are experiencing due to the pandemic. Additive manufacturing is portable - meaning that the timespan between manufacturing and distribution is much shorter than conventional manufacturing. 3D printing enables businesses to maximise local communities' potential as manufacturers can set up local assembly hubs - driving regional economic activity.

Other key benefits of 3D printing include the possibility of more comprehensive product customisation(the customer can be more involved in product design as the price per unit per part stays the same), decreased shipping and tax-related costs and improved time-to-market.

Another advantage is that while conventional manufacturing requires moulds for parts to be produced, 3D printed parts only need a digital file. Therefore, manufacturers can make the necessary changes to the product by simply editing the digital file, rather than ordering a new product mould. Furthermore, on-demand production's flexibility means that physical goods' movement across borders would reduce, eliminating the need for large warehouses and complex logistical preparations.

How can manufacturers successfully switch to 3D printing?

A 2017 study ("3D Printing Services Market – Global Outlook and Forecast 2017 – 2022") by Research and Markets predicted that the 3D printing market would grow at a rate of more than 28% between 2016 and 2022. By 2022, Research and Markets predicted that service providers would overcome barriers such as lack of 3D printing-related knowledge and the hefty initial investment required to purchase the equipment. 

Recent solutions to initial challenges have boosted the 3D printing industry's market value. Companies such as Dassault Systèmes are built on the premise of making 3D printing more accessible. Dassault Systèmes' 3DEXPERIENCE branch serves as a matchmaking service between buyers and manufacturers. Currently, they have over 200 manufacturers in the U.S and Europe participating in the project. This on-demand manufacturing service makes 3D printing possible for companies who are dipping their toes in the world of 3D printing but are not yet ready to commit fully. Such a service allows both manufacturers and buyers to configure a more flexible supply chain that meets short-term and long-term needs.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a stimulant to change. It has forced industries to re-think conventional modes of production and shift towards more innovative solutions. 3D printing enables companies to localise production, reduce costs, improve time-to-market, reduce consumer prices and produce higher-quality products. In global supply chain management, 3D printing is set to continue providing a viable alternative to old methods, and transform the way business is conducted worldwide.
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