The Path Forward – 3D Printing and supply chain management

3D printing has captured the imagination of the media and the financial markets; prognosticators are predicting a fundamental disruption in the manufacturing paradigm, from mass production to mass customization. Are we finally achieving the “lot size of one” that Taiichi Ohno envisioned when creating the Toyota Production System? Will factories disappear as the “maker movement” drives demand toward custom-designed items created on 3D printers in the home? How will these changes affect the industrial supply chains?

The answers are “yes,” “no,” and “profoundly…in certain cases.” As with many other new technologies, forecasters overhype the changes while naysayers ignore the potential. Ultimately, we expect to see fundamental shifts in some supply chains but not others. To understand the phenomenon and evade the hysteria, we need only look at the history of a recent disruption: e-commerce. The potential of the Internet was initially overhyped, yet it has had profound-but not overwhelming-effects on most supply chains.

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