How 3D printing is affecting — and will affect — supply chains

© 2011 Bart Dring
© 2011 Bart Dring

For the last several years, pundits have argued whether 3D printing would transform traditional supply chains.  Recently, however, the sentiment now seems to support change.  According to American Shipper (September 2015)*, widespread adoption of 3D printing could affect the transportation industry in several ways:

  • Transport companies might use 3D printers to support their own operations.  For example, Maersk is researching the placement of 3D printers on its own tankers or oil rigs to make spare parts on-site, saving shipping time and costs.
  • Companies could create services that cater to users of 3D printers.  UPS has established a center with 100 3D printers which allows customers to upload a design for a product and have it delivered by UPS.
  • Raw materials used by 3D printers could become an important commodity to be transported.  There has been a significant increase is the use of 3D printing materials, such as polymers, plastics and metal powders, all of which must be delivered to the printing entity.
  • Use of 3D printers could result in the manufacture of products closer to their point of consumption, perhaps reducing the need for transport of some products.  Some experts see this only as a future possibility, viewing 3D printing as supplemental to traditional manufacturing, until such time as technology improves and prices drop, enabling more micro factories.

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