With new capacities, faster speeds, digitalized inventory, and innovative materials, additive manufacturing is moving inventory closer to the customer and forever changing global supply chains.
A new year brings great promise for inspiration and change. We need both of these ideas to move forward in 2021. Our 3D printing community came to the rescue during 2020 to keep our healthcare workers safe dealing with parts of a broken supply chain. The question now becomes: How do we take these lessons and move forward? Let’s talk about:
What we learned about 3D printing’s role in the supply chain in 2020
How 3D printing will evolve in 2021
The impact of 3D printing on supply chains in 2021 and beyond
“AM technology increases the flexibility of manufacturing and production processes, reducing both our dependence on global supply chains and logistics expenses.”
The COVID-19 virus has affected the world in an unprecedented way. The pandemic has shown us just how deeply a crisis can disrupt societies and economies that are now so interconnected on a global level. This has been especially true in the case of supply chains and production. But the situation is also creating some valuable learnings, an important one being that by embracing alternative technologies to innovate, and with industry collaboration, we can make our supply chains more reliable, cost-effective and efficient – not just now but for the longer-term.
In previous decades, medical technology as well as countless other industries, have shifted the production of components or entire products to locations with lower labour costs, far away from their target market. Unfortunately, there are cases, including the current pandemic, where the vulnerability of these fully optimised supply chains have been laid bare – leading to supply bottlenecks, weakened domestic markets and lessened autonomy.
3D printing refers to a computer-controlled construction system, in which material is deposited and layered in an organized manner to form a physical object based on a computationally designed plan. The ease of distribution of digital files that then allow one to fabricate an object locally could help to ease the burden faced by healthcare providers in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As a person in the additive manufacturing media, well-meaning texts from friends and family members containing 3D printing news stories are always a good indication of the technology’s footing in the mainstream conversation. So, as the coronavirus pandemic hit and 3D printers were poised as the solution to pressing supply chain challenges for crucial items on the frontline, you can imagine, my inbox was pretty full.
Hospitals brought 3D printers in-house to support production of protective medical equipment, universities loaned their additive capabilities to print parts for local healthcare providers, and 3D printing equipment manufacturers became service providers overnight.
How that awareness and momentum might extend to the coming months and indeed years, particularly as this health crisis remains, is up for debate, and yesterday a trio of panellists across various industry segments came together to discuss what that could look like.
Every sector is in the midst of a digital transformation journey adopting the latest technologies worldwide.
Sectors such as supply chain, manufacturing, logistics and transportation are currently facing an extreme shift in the adoption of new technologies. Not only has the current pandemic been a catalyst in adoption, technology is currently in the midst of its biggest transformation yet. New technology innovations have enabled us to automate processes, manage the supply chain and track data using blockchain.
3D printing has been around for over 20 years but has only recently been adopted by large-scale markets. This technology allows for companies to create specific devices or products in-house using specialised materials while minimising cost. This means independence for the supply chain and manufacturing industries as well as reducing delivery times and eliminating the need to store a large number of products in a warehouse.
3D printing is a globally used language meaning that digital files can be sent from anywhere and then printed locally, allowing for on-demand files to be printed immediately reducing inventory build-up and costs. This streamlined approach only brings positives to the manufacturing and supply chain sectors, and boasts huge benefits such as dealing with less risk, having more control and adding agility to their product lifecycle.
A Stanford computer scientist, Roy Amara, noted in the 1960s that “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. When it comes to 3D printing, it could certainly be argued that he was right.
A promise that could be fulfilled
3D printing, sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, is a technology that is evolving fast and has not yet reached its full potential when it comes to decentralising production. It could very well offer the answer to the addiction the world has to the supply chain – simply by removing it from the equation. Now, 3D printing is only used for toy models and prototyping and it has not reached far beyond that.
The upcoming Additive Industrialization Center will develop know-how for direct production of 3D-printed parts.
3D printing has been crucial to the launch of General Motors’ halo Corvette sport sports car and was crucial in the company’s ability to pivot to producing medical equipment in response to the COVID-19 virus, but the company has even bigger plans for the technology coming later this year.
GM printed 17,000 face shields with its additive manufacturing equipment and printed the tooling for the injection molds that have now created 250,000 more shields. Before that, the team building the first mid-engine Corvette prototype relied on 75 percent printed parts to assemble the car for testing. This faster process sped the car’s development and pointed the way for future new car development projects.
It is a common belief that you can make almost anything you want when it comes to 3D printing.
Bits and pieces ranging from a splint for a broken arm, a bulldozer part that has split or cracked, to a malfunctioning part on a navy ship patrolling high seas in the Middle East, can be remade with relative ease compared to a traditional replacement.
The 3D printing process, also known as additive manufacturing, is currently being adopted to solve some of Australia’s supply shortages during COVID-19.
Industry organisations such as the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC), CSIRO and industrial-scale additive manufacturing company Titomic are at the forefront of promoting 3D printing technologies and advocating for its growth.
IMCRC CEO David Chuter said 3D printing, particularly for plastics, has never been more relevant.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of our publisher, the industry sourcing company DirectIndustry, we are celebrating 20 years of industrial innovations by giving the floor to the players that brought these innovations to life. In this interview, we focus on 3D printing.Eric Bredin, VP Marketing, Stratasys, EMEA, gives his insights into 20 years of innovations in additive manufacturing and 3D printing technology.
DirectIndustry magazine: 30 years ago, you went into an industrial sector, 3D printing, that was unoccupied: why and how?
Erin Bredin: Thirty years ago, Stratasys saw the potential 3D printing could bring to the manufacturing world and has since developed its Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology to fit production needs of various industries. FDM offered manufacturers a tool that was lacking until then – the ability to produce small series or customized parts in-house quickly and cost-effectively. Today, many manufacturers see 3D printing – or additive manufacturing – as a staple part of the industrial production floor, replacing certain conventional manufacturing technologies or offering a complementary tool for production.
The novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated the vulnerability of conventional global supply chains. Over the past decade, natural disasters, including the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the Thailand floods in 2011, the category five hurricane Maria in 2017, and the category four hurricane Harvey in 2017, resulted in major disruptions to company supply chains. Although the global supply chain and the majority of companies recovered from these natural calamities, the overemphasis of firms on cost-cutting measures by concentrating on production overseas through manufacturing clusters has caused many of the current problems, such as vast shortcomings in the supply of much-needed medical and non-medical products required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there is unavailability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers, scarcity of ventilators for patients, inadequacy of sanitiser liquid, and shortage of test kits for the public.
Bans issued by countries on the export of PPEs and products critical to fighting the pandemic have caused the global supply chains to collapse. These instances illustrate the fragility of the global supply chains amid a large disruption.