The 3D printed supply chain: stronger, faster, and more flexible

Most people were introduced to the concept of Additive Manufacturing (AM) for the first time during President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address. This technology, more commonly referred to as 3D printing, is believed by most to be in its relative infancy. What people don’t know is that it has been developing for the past three decades and is just now starting to garner the attention it deserves for the impact it will have on manufacturing operations and traditional supply chains.

My first encounter with 3D Printing was 15 months ago on deployment to Bahrain. ‘While reading New York Times bestseller, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Dr. Peter Diamandis (Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation) and Steven Kotler (bestselling author and science journalist), I was introduced to the technology as one of several that have the potential to solve the world’s greatest problems. They explain that, “Suddenly an invention developed in China can be perfected in India then printed in Brazil on the same day.” (LOC 1369 Kindle)

Working in the supply office of a US Navy Minesweeper helped me realize the vast potential that could be unlocked if we had access to a 3D printer on the ship. Assuming we could print enough parts to justify the initial investment in the technology, we could save time and money on transportation costs, benefit from skilled technical distance support, reduce opportunity cost (the cost incurred when we don’t execute), and increase overall mission readiness. The idea of not having to suffer long lead-times for one-off production runs of legacy parts, items no longer provided through the Navy stock system, intrigued me and I began to investigate the history and capabilities of this technology.

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