The impact of 3D printing on supply chain planning

By: Creative Tools

No, that’s not a Star Trek Replicator. It’s a 3D printer. But sadly, no, you can’t synthesize your own cup of hot Earl Grey Tea just yet.

The technology of creating objects by layering material in precise ways has been around for a couple of decades. What has changed now is the availability of sturdier material to create higher quality objects and the reduced cost in hardware. According to Gartner, the growth of 3D printers will increase by 200 percent in 2015.

How would 3D printing impact supply chain planning?

For starters, 3D printing is not mature enough for mass manufacturing due to its inability to handle complexity. Products that require multiple parts will need to be 3D-printed separately. This would lead to a longer assembly process with more workforce or advanced automation tools involved. Supply chain planners would need to plan and optimize workforce to ensure 3D-printed components are available at every stage of the assembly process.

However, this doesn’t mean 3D printing will doom the supply chain as most people predicted. On-the-spot manufacturing gives companies the advantage of responding to consumer demands effectively. Customized production would also result in shorter lead times, lower transport costs and inventory levels.

Companies are already leveraging on 3D printing, including GE for air turbine parts in jets, NASA for tools and spare parts in space, and even Formula One teams. I’m not a fan of fast cars but reading how Lotus Formula One leverage on 3D printing and big data for tactical race-day decisions is pretty amazing.

Is 3D printing the next big thing in the evolution of manufacturing? Let us know in your comment below or drop us a tweet @Quintiq.