3D Printing – Democratizing Manufacturing

3D printing is poised to have a significant impact on all aspects of the supply chain – sourcing, manufacturing and distribution

The principles of economies of scale through mass production and assembly lines have dictated the design of manufacturing facilities and supply chain for a very long time. The advent of 3D printing or “additive manufacturing” threatens to question these principles and could bring about a new “Revolution” of localized manufacturing. The technology for 3D printing has been known since the 1980’s and has been primarily used to create prototypes, but advances in the last decade have the potential to completely alter the landscape of the traditional supply chain.

The success stories and practical examples can be seen in multiple industries like Healthcare, Automotive, Aerospace and Defence. Products with superior qualities and higher degree of customization are being manufactured in low volumes using the current technology. The inherent process provides the flexibility to “print” products with complex designs that would be very difficult to manufacture using traditional techniques.

The 3D printing technology is rapidly evolving but it is not at a stage to make traditional manufacturing completely redundant. That is still a few years away. The technology needs further understanding, innovation and adoption to get to a stage where it can challenge the incumbent. There are technical (quality, cost and variety of the feed material, performance in high volume production environment) and business (redesigning of operating models, remodelling of supply chains, and training of personnel) hurdles to cross before it can. The inevitable disruption will happen once these barriers are overcome. Post that, the adoption will increase exponentially and the once “futuristic” technology will become “realistic”. It is time Businesses take notice.