3D printing and supply chain future

3D printing and supply chain future

Consulting firm McKinsey estimates that the 3D printing market will grow from $ 180 billion to $ 490 billion by 2025. What is 3D printing technology? How does it work? Did 3D printing really change the global manufacturing process completely? Will 3D printing make traditional factories obsolete? And so will the volume of logistics change dramatically?

Let’s go find the answer.

What is 3D printing technology? How does it work?

3D printing is also known as “additive manufacturing”. Simply put, the functions of a classic 3D printer are quite similar to conventional inkjet printers. Both get print information from a digital file but, while the inkjet applies the ink to the paper, the 3D printer uses the available materials to layered successive layers, built into a 3-dimensional solid object.

This is also different from conventional manufacturing methods: the material is added layer by layer instead of casting or cutting or bending the material. A digital model is the digital design information needed to print an object.

Digital models can be created from scratch using design programs like CAD (computer-aided design) or by using scanners to capture 3D virtual images of an existing object. To allow a 3D printer to construct a physical object from a digital model, the 3D modeling software slices the digital model into hundreds or thousands of cut layers, depending on the size and structure of the object.

Economic benefits of 3D printing technology

The 3D printing technology holds several additional advantages over conventional manufacturing techniques. The main benefit of 3D printing is the ability to produce a wide variety of products from just one 3D printer. Thus helps:

Simplify production steps such as designing, testing and manufacturing products that are very complex or require a high degree of customization.

Faster delivery times through on-demand and hierarchical production strategies.

Lower logistics and production costs (for example, lower transportation and storage costs, can eliminate import and export costs through local production, eliminating production tools and new molds and costly modifications for factories)

Increased sustainability and greater efficiency in manufacturing through the use of minimal amounts of materials and energy in production.

Current 3D application cases

An items printed by Ender 3 Pro at creality3dofficial.com

Automotive industry

Many older manufacturing companies also successfully implement 3D printing in their manufacturing processes and often achieve outstanding results. This is evident, especially in the aerospace and automotive industries. The BMW Group has so far integrated 10,000 3D-printed parts to produce the Rolls-Royce Phantom, claiming that new technologies like these will shorten production lead times and achieve efficiency. more economic performance in the automobile manufacturing industry.

Aircraft manufacturing industry

Airbus is using 3D printing technology in its aircraft and has released more than 1,000 3D printing parts in its latest A350. Airbus is also experimenting with aircraft produced entirely with 3D printing technology. At the 2016 International Aerospace Show, it showcased the Thor – a fully 3D printed drone consisting of 50 3D printed parts and two electric motors. This plane is 4 meters long and weighs 21 kg, built in just 4 weeks.

Health care

NextDent is a 3D printing company that produces personalized dental crowns to ensure the aesthetics and accuracy of the patient’s function. This is done through 3D scanning of the teeth and then 3D printed with resin. Another example is Renishaw, a British engineering company that operates three 3D printers, each sintering a batch of 200 personalized dental crowns from a cobalt-chromium alloy, achieving faster, cheaper production. than ceramic products. Dental laboratories from all over Europe can order from Renishaw’s facility.


Another example is startup SOLS offering custom insoles through two business models: Customers can scan their feet either by themselves or with an orthopedic machine, and their full 3D printed sole. sent directly to them. Likewise, companies like Feetz and 3DShoes.com offer personalized sneakers. The customer scans his or her feet with a smartphone camera and chooses the desired design, color, and materials. Three days later, they received a pair of matching shoes priced between $ 50 and $ 180. Adidas and Nike have been testing a similar service in their stores.


Food Ink, a 3D printing restaurant newly opened in London in mid-2016, opened with the promise of not only providing meals but also delicious food from “pixel to printer to plate”. Food Ink produces dishes using a multi-ingredient 3D printer in which food dough is heated and combined into several layers. There are many different dishes and each dish is made with the smallest nutrition. And most of all, this cooking method produces barely any waste.

Applying 3D printing technology in the future supply chain?

It is relatively clear that 3D printing will not be used to mass produce anything, but instead, promising advantages and 3D printing applications highlighted in the previous examples. The greatest potential danger of this technology lies in its ability to simplify the production of highly customizable and complex products and parts. For companies engaged in this type of manufacturing, 3D printing in the future could become a factor that redefines traditional production and supply chain strategies. Below are three use cases that illustrate how companies can work alongside logistics providers to integrate 3D printing into their supply chains.

Spare parts on demand

Thanks to 3D printing, companies may no longer need to store spare parts in a warehouse. Instead they can print these parts on request, when needed, and quickly deliver these items to the customer. In order to achieve consistent and efficient reduction in time, logistics providers can assist companies to create a dense network of 3D printers for immediate printing and delivery. spare parts on request.

Directly personalized component production

When the customer requires a high degree of customization, and the adoption of 3D printing technology can create a source of competitive advantage for the organization, companies are encouraged to create the right parts that can be delivered quickly. to the point of use. For example, Amazon recently filed a patent for a truck equipped with a 3D printer, for the purpose of manufacturing the product on its way to the customer. This can allow companies to manufacture parts very close to demand and thus significantly reduce the delivery time of individual parts to customers.

3D printing shop for businesses and consumers

Companies can equip 3D printing equipment at their service points or retail, to help consumers access the most advanced 3D printing services. In essence, this approach is not new, it will work similarly to the way consumers currently print paper documents by taking files from a USB drive to the print store or printing photos at photo kiosks in stores. . In the future, these 3D printing shops may not only integrate 3D printers but also design tools and scanners, as well as have a variety of material choices.

Final Words

3D printing shops like these can also be used by companies to quickly test new products without having to invest and maintain the very latest 3D printing infrastructure. Personnel working inside 3D printing shops will be trained to assist customers in using 3D printers. And because the printing process can take some time, the 3D printing shop may also have a delivery service for the customer.

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