Supply Chain Management is emerging as a major growth area of the 21st century economy.
Why you might ask? Because it’s such a diverse and important business function which crosses basically every industry and business sector in one way or another. It’s not surprising that there’s a huge variety of technologies in the pipeline that will transform Supply Chain in the not-too-distant future (if they aren’t already). Here’s Argentus’ new semi-regular feature: Supply Chain Tech. Because we work with so many different companies in such a diverse range of industries, we have to stay up to date on what’s going on in the SCM field so we thought we would pass on some of the interesting Supply Chain tech trends that we’ve come across recently, hopefully with the aim of getting a discussion going about where Supply Chain is going this century and beyond. Today, we talk about:
What is it? 3D Printing is effectively the “next level” of manufacturing automation. Also known as “additive manufacturing,” 3D Printers use plastic or alloys as a raw material in conjunction with a laser and an accompanying software schematic to “print” a 3 dimensional object one layer at a time. 3D Printing has been around in embryonic form since the 1980s. Originally envisioned as just a printing technology, 3D printing took on a role in product development as a way to “Rapid Prototype”—that is, to quickly iterate on products. Now, many are seeing 3D printing as the future of manufacturing. While it’s still probably many years until 3D printing replaces conventional manufacturing, 3D Printers have been getting more and more sophisticated. They can now print moving parts, and costs are dropping steadily.
There’s been some buzz online that 3d Printing is set to “kill” the conventional Supply Chain by reducing much of the demand for distribution networks. The advent of cost-efficient, widely-diffused 3D printing would definitely change the way Supply Chains function. Businesses would move from a “Hub and Spoke” model where goods are manufactured at specific sites to be shipped around the world to a more diffuse, multilateral system with much more “local” manufacturing. Inventory could be reduced as goods are manufactured to-order instead of in large batches. Spare parts could be manufactured on site, reducing the need for costly same-day delivery. It doesn’t need much imagination is to see that the implications could be vast.
Out: Large work forces in manufacturing, “hub and spoke” manufacturing, high storage and distribution costs, large inventories, wasted raw materials in manufacturing.
In: Make-to-Order manufacturing, a “Push” manufacturing model instead of a “Pull” model, localized production, more customized manufacturing.
This is just a brief overview. We’d love to hear any thoughts you might have about how 3D printing might impact your company’s Supply Chain processes going forward. If 3D printing for manufacturing is your area of expertise, even better.
Finally, here’s a great Infographic from Jones Lang LaSalle about the impact of 3D printing on the traditional Supply Chain:
We hope to bring you more of these quick posts about tech that’s transforming the Supply Chain world in the coming days. What other emerging technologies are on the horizon? Let us know in the comments!
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Over and Out for now