Making the virtual a reality with additive manufacturing

“Using AM with virtual inventories cuts out the headache and costs of balancing excess and shortages in physical inventory at individual locations.”

The efficiency-enhancing benefits of 3D printing/additive manufacturing (AM) can deliver many quantifiable advantages for supply chain managers. In a previous column I talked about its ability to simplify the supply chain via the production of complex parts. Another key aspect of AM that can deliver even more significant efficiencies within supply chains, is its ability to enable the use of virtual/digital inventories. This is quite literally the ability to access and pull parts from a digital (rather than physical) inventory and then quickly and effortlessly 3D print them anywhere at any time in the exact quantity desired. The digital inventory can be stored on a local disk, in a central disk, or even in the cloud.

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This has several positive implications, the first of which is the huge cost saving that arises from eradicating the need for large physical inventories. Let’s face it, physical inventory is the weak spot in any supply chain; it has no benefits beyond the availability of parts and is a burden for companies that pay enormous amounts of money to maintain it. Similarly, from a logistics perspective using AM with virtual inventories cuts out the headache and costs of balancing excess and shortages in physical inventory at individual locations. Indeed, the logistical benefits are even greater as virtual inventories simplify and streamline the entire distribution network at the geographic level. Think about it – there’s no longer any physical inventory, which means the traditional central-to-region-to-local distribution model is eradicated, as is the need to do projections… which, of course, have to be exact, lest the company suffers from more delays and more costs. In contrast, working digitally takes no time at all and so much cheaper.

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