3D Printing in the Supply Chain Market Overview
President Obama said in his 2012 State of the Union Address, “3D printing . . . has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” Can there be any greater endorsement than from the world’s most powerful man? 3D printing is the commonly used term for additive manufacturing. It is a manufacturing technique which creates physical objects from digital designs. It uses a process called layering which produces multiple layers of material until the product is ready. It can be applied in a large number of diverse fields like aerospace & defence, retail, automobile manufacturing, fabrication as well as supply chain optimization. 3D printing in the supply chain market can have a profound impact on transforming this process. It allows weeks to be shaved off manufacturing time and also helps companies reduce their carbon footprint related to production and distribution. It produces very little waste, which makes it popular with environmentalists and the government. It enables manufacturers to “print on demand”, reducing both inventory cost and allowing customized products for individual customers.
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3D Printing in the Supply Chain Market Drivers
When we think of 3D printing in the supply chain market, dentistry might not immediately come to mind. However, 3D printing can be used in custom orthodontic braces which may even be transparent. Patients prefer custom designed braces since it gives them a sense of individuality. It can also find application in the healthcare industry to create prosthetic hands or even hearing aids. 3D printing can be used to make stronger, lighter and longer-lasting products. They could even be used to make bandages that help wounds heal faster. 3D printing is best suited for production in small batches which is why they have begun to be used for creating replacement knees or hips. These have to be customized to an individual patient’s requirement. It may even find utility in the armed forces as the U.S. Army is currently exploring the possibility of using 3D printers to create custom rations filled with nutrients which can be used on the battlefield. These could even be soldier specific. These are anticipated to be the main drivers of 3D printing in the supply chain market.
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3D Printing in the Supply Chain Market Restraints
Supply chain optimization is all about reducing costs, be it in manufacturing, handling, transportation, inventory costs and thereby streamlining operations. While the price of 3D printers has come down over the years, they are still very expensive. A typical 3D printer can cost between $500,000 to millions of dollars each making it very challenging to incorporate 3D printing in the supply chain market. Another constraint is that of economies of scale, or lack of it rather. 3D printing is well suited to creating products of a small quantity and customized to customer specific requirements. However, substantial costs can be saved by ordering bulk quantity. The third most pressing concern is that of speed. 3D printers are very slow and take hours if not days to create a product. This can be a major challenge in any industry where consumer tastes change rapidly and quick reaction times are required. These are the main restraints obstructing wide-spread adoption of 3D printing in the supply chain market.
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3D Printing in the Supply Chain Market Key Regions
There are a few key regions of the world involved in manufacturing – North America, the E.U, and APAC countries like China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. China is currently the world’s largest manufacturing nation. Thus, there is great scope for 3D printing in the Chinese supply chain market. 3D printing can also be used to ‘near source’ products to the key markets of the U.S. and the EU. This would reduce shipping, freight and air transportation cost and also enable manufacturers to quickly address demand in these key markets.
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3D Printing in the Supply Chain Market Key Market Players
Some of the key players involved in 3D printing in the supply chain market are 3D Systems, HP Development Company, Safran Turbomeca, Optomec and Stratasys.
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