The Implications of 3D Printing for Global Logistics Industry


Added on  2019-09-23

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The implications of 3D printing for the global logistics industry - DraftIntroduction3D Printing’, or ‘additive manufacturing’ as it is also known, has the potential to become the biggest single disruptive phenomenon to impact global industry since assembly lines were introduced in early twentieth century America.New technologies which are currently being developed could revolutionize production techniques, resulting in a significant proportion of manufacturing becoming automated and removing reliance on large and costly work forces. This in turn could lead to a reversal of the trend of globalization which has characterized industry and consumption over the last few decades, itself predicated on the trade-off between transportation and labor costs.Globalization has benefited shipping lines, airlines and freight forwarders enormously as vast quantities of consumer goods are moved internationally to Western markets from the Far East. Consequently any challenge to globalization must be viewed as a threat to the global transportation industry. However, as with all disruptive technologies, it also offers opportunities. This briefing takes a look at the new technology, assesses the chances of its widespread adoptionand examines its implications for the logistics industry.3D Printing was originally developed as an automated method of producing prototypes. Although there are several competing technologies, most work on the basis of building up layers of material (sometimes plastic, ceramics or even metal powders) using a computer aided design. Hence, it is referred to as an ‘additive’ process; each layer is ‘printed’ until a three dimensional product is created.The logic for using 3D printing for prototypes is compelling. Traditional ‘reductive’ manufacturing techniques (where materials are removed) can take longer and are much more expensive. Mechanical parts, shoes, fashion items and accessories and other consumer goods, can all be printed for review by the designer or engineers, and revisions printed equally as easily.Whereas mass production is viable due to economies of scale, it is uneconomical for ‘one offs’ and prototypes. 3D Printing will remove this differential, where every item produced is an original (or perfect copy) and tooling for one is as cheap as tooling for many.The final 3D Printed product also has other benefits. Products can be lighter, but just as strong. There is also less wastage. In comparison traditional reductive manufacturing is highly inefficient in the use of materials.The way in which each product is individually manufactured means that it is ideal for ‘mass customization’ techniques. Consumers will, in theory, be able to have a much greater say in the final format of the product which they are buying, and have it manufactured to their precise specifications.
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It is highly likely that 3D printing will play a key role in the supply chain in the next three to fiveyears, according to our poll that asked our readers, supply chain experts, “when do you think 3D printing will play a role in your supply chain?”When asked whether 3D printing would be adopted in the next three years, 22 percent were confident. This could suggest that many companies are already looking into the possibility and are investing in the process for the future. 20 percent believe implementing 3D printing across the majority of supply chains would take a bit longer, becoming a reality in the next five years.20 percent of respondents were unsure if or when they would be adopting 3D printing, but were interested to learn more about the process. Only 8 percent felt that it currently plays a role in their supply chain, which is in-line with reports that just a handful of industries have confidently adopted the method so far. The aerospace, automotive and mobile telecoms industries use 3D printing to produce strong but light components and the healthcare industry are using it to print artificial joints and dental crowns.Limitations to 3D printing processes, such as restrictions on materials, speed, and a lack of working knowledge, could be the reasons why it might take longer for the process to be fully adopted. However, with advantages such as greater personalization, fewer waste products and greater benefits for the environment, and localized manufacturing and delivery, research suggestssupply chain managers are increasingly looking to invest in the method.As more and more research into the application of the 3D printing becomes available, SCM predicts that it will play a much more prominent role in future supply chains, and it will take less than 10 years for the method to be implemented much more widely.There is obviously an enormous leap between a manufacturing process which can presently produce one-offs and one that can replace large scale manufacturing. However, in theory, there is no reason why advances in technology could not increase the speed of production and reduce unit costs.If this were to happen there would be many consequences, bringing about relatively minor (and then potentially major) changes to the global manufacturing industry.For instance, 3D Printing is already very good at producing products (even with moving parts) which previously would have required the assembly of multiple components. By eliminating the assembly phase there will be huge savings for the manufacturer in terms of labor costs, but also potentially in the removal of storage, handling and distribution costs involved in bringing together the relevant components.However systemic change will only occur if the automation of production rebalances global supply chain costs. The falling proportion of total costs made up by labor in the West would take
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