How Will 3D Printing Impact the Supply Chain?
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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="321"] Computer and MakerBot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)[/caption] 3D printing holds a lot of promise and is heavily backed by investors, but only really came to wider media attention this year. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, pioneering companies like Makerbot and 3D Systems, Inc. showed off the vast potential for the technology.
The 3D Printing Impact on Supply Chain ManagementWhat hasn't been discussed quite as widely is just how 3D printing impacts the supply chain, not to mention the managers who must predict and adjust to such changes. At first glance, 3D printing could easily be seen as a damaging development for existing warehouse and supply chain solutions. The linear make, move, store and distribute model of the supply chain is clearly disrupted when the means of production can be purchased by anyone, for uses personal or professional. So doesn't this technology bypass almost all of the traditional process?
The Current Limitations of 3D PrintingNot exactly. There are a number of limitations to consider before a game-changing technological breakthrough hits your supply chain. These include:
- Early stage technology - For all the attention being paid to 3D printing, the products themselves are still limited and in the early adopter stage. The hallmarks of this stage are high cost and limited products, which prevent mass adoption. Realistically we have several years before this begins to change, so you have some time to ponder your company's response!
- Regulations - New technology is always (eventually) subject to new regulations that govern its use. Home manufacturing takes this to another level because of the ability to produce potentially dangerous items - guns, for example - and the uncertainty over operational safety. Even with 3D printers hitting the consumer market, lawmakers and industry watchdogs will be watching to ensure that safety standards are established and adhered to.
- Liability - In a similar vein, companies will need to ensure that any part they play in a 3D manufacturing process, whether providing hardware or the software and blueprints required to use it, is subject to liability insurance. This will be another new field to explore and draw up policies, adding to the many hurdles before providers can enter the 3D printing market.
- Quality - The types of product that can currently produced by 3D printers is wide but not so deep, meaning that everything from replacement parts to candy can be created, but not necessarily to the level of quality that consumers expect. The hype around the technology can easily overtake the reality of its current abilities, which again means more testing and transition time before runaway disruption occurs.