All in all, if you’re a supply chain manager not already harnessing the benefits of AM, then it’s worth taking a closer look at what the technology can do for you. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
In a previous column, I discussed the basic advantages and challenges of additive manufacturing (AM, a.k.a. 3D printing) when it comes to the supply chain. We centered around the main characteristics of AM technology, namely production one layer at a time, on demand, and with a minimum batch size of just one. One of the main game changers that AM enables is virtual inventory and this piece will delve a bit deeper into this aspect as well as its implications in today’s complex and volatile geopolitical climate.
In traditional supply chains the parts are kept physically in inventory after they have been manufactured and passed QA. The costs and issues surrounding storing large amounts of physical inventory are very familiar to supply chain managers. Conversely, with virtual inventory, items are kept digitally until they are ordered. When an order arrives, the item is retrieved from the virtual inventory and additively manufactured. Then, the resulting (physical) item can join the existing logistics set up and be delivered to its final destination, as with the physical inventory case. Holding your inventory in digital files rather than physical items and producing them on demand, close to the demand, using AM, has been called Distributed Additive Manufacturing (DAM) and it presents many benefits.