Logistics is a sector in continuous exploration of new alternatives to improve processes and make them more efficient, locally focused and globally connected. One of the innovations that the main logistics providers are betting on is 3D printing technology.
The relationship between the logistics industry and 3D printing is fascinating for a multitude of reasons. The 3D in supply chain management integration seems natural, almost inevitable. Its potential applications within the production processes go hand in hand with the revolution that this technology has presented so far.
What is 3D printing? From the prototype to the customized final product.
The 3D printing origins were as an automated technology for prototype production. This process, mostly works on material layer manufacturing (plastic, ceramic, metal powders, etc.) using a computer-aided design. This is known as additive process, where each layer is printed and overlaps the previous one, until a three-dimensional product is created.
The use of 3D printing for prototyping purposes has earned its space in the market. Before the traditional “reductive” manufacturing techniques, where, from a mass of material, it is roughed up to forge the object, resulting in a slower and more expensive process. 3D printing is a sustainable alternative for application in various niche markets.
Now this technology is being applied for the development of final products. While traditional mass manufacturing is viable due to scale economies, it is uneconomical for “special” products. 3D printing has the power to eliminate this differential, where each item produced is original (or exact copy) and the tools to make only one piece can be as accessible as the cost of mass production.
The manufacture of the final product through 3D printing also has other benefits. Products may be lighter, but equally strong and resistant. Also they cause less waste.
The possibility of producing an object individually means that is ideal for “mass customization.” Where consumers can have a greater participation in the products they buy and manufacture them according to their precise specifications.
In the industry, additive manufacturing, through 3D printing, supports democratizing the manufacturing process. This finds its value in printing of low-volume articles, specific for the client, which are capable of much greater complexity than is possible through traditional means.
Implications of 3D printing in the logistics industry.
The implications of this new manufacturing technology for the logistics industry will be very relevant. Here are some benefits:
Shipping volumes and air cargo reduction.
Potentially, a part of the goods produced in China or other Asian markets could be manufactured closer to America and Europe. This reduces shipping volumes and air cargo.
Inventory levels reduction.
Mass customization would mean the opportunity to reduce inventories given that products are made to order. This is a general advantage for the industrial sector, but it is a fundamental positive change for the development of small and medium enterprises.
- Example: UPS Store. 3D printing service for small businesses.
UPS is experimenting with this technology to improve national reach, facing the small businesses growing demands. The UPS Store, pioneer in bringing this service to small businesses, offers this 3D printing service in more than 60 different locations. This initiative aims to simplify and improve every aspect of the supply chain, from manufacturing to digitalization, certification and delivery. This seeks to reduce inventories of slow moving parts, cost-effective product customization and acceleration of high-quality prototype delivery for designers and industrial engineers.
Final customer distribution.
Likewise, given the possibility of on demand manufacturing, an almost immediate delivery can be ensured. Personalization and immediacy are the two consumer needs that this technology we will be able to meet.
New transportation needs.
The volume of sea, air and land transport will be reduced in certain products, but will increase in others. The identity of the transported items will change. For example, for sure the transportation of raw materials related to 3D printing will arise.
Without limits parts and spare parts logistics’ effectiveness.
This will be one of the most affected sectors. Currently, there is a large investment in maintaining stocks to supply spare parts for various types of industries. The importance of satisfying the immediacy and that the pieces are sent in the shortest possible time is one of the vital needs of the sector. Through 3D printing, getting spare parts can be a few hours activity. Even within the company the staff could download the spare part file and print it directly.
- Example: DiManEx. Digital stocks development.
DiManEx provides a cloud-based end-to-end service for 3D manufacturing through a certified additive manufacturing partners’ network. It focuses on the supply chain optimization through digitalization and the creation of digital stocks. With services aimed to intensive parts manufacturers and companies, with access to a digital supply platform anywhere in the world to produce industrial parts and small series with one click.
New logistics industry’ sectors.
Given the current changing needs, a new important sector in the logistic industry will arise. It will be related to the storage and management of materials that “feed” 3D printers. As 3D printers massively reach the general and industrial public, the home delivery market for these materials will increase.
Industrial circular economy stimulation.
Additive manufacturing will help companies improve the materials’ productivity by eliminating waste that accumulates in traditional manufacturing; therefore, it will stimulate the creation of a beneficial circular economy with a substantially smaller environmental footprint.
3D printing will radically change the world of logistics and supply chain management. It has the potential to substantially reduce delivery and commercialization times, satisfying customer demand, with a positive impact on the planet.
This technology will continue to play an important role in these fields as more companies learn the best ways to adapt and implement it. To achieve that, these changes will require the creation of new models and a restructure of the logistic systems that we know, being vital a mindset change towards local with global impact.