Disruptive Changes with 3D Printing

3D Printing

Let’s discuss accretive manufacturing. What? Haven’t heard that term yet? That’s because accretive manufacturing is just a fancier name for 3D printing. You may never hear it referred to as accretive manufacturing, but mark my words…the supply chain industry is about to be disrupted to an unrecognizable extent by it. In 2016, Honda released a single-seat “micro-commuter” vehicle with the body and majority of the panels having been 3D printed. In the meantime, Boeing expects to shave $2 to $3 million off each 787 Dreamliner's manufacturing costs by 2018, thanks in part to 3D-printed titanium. So if Boeing can now 3D print parts to an airplane and auto manufacturers are now 3D printing dashboards—and even entire vehicles—how long do you think it will be until we require almost no inventory because we can 3D print on demand any item we desire?

At home if I break a spatula, I can now 3D print a replacement. Granted, I am only printing with plastic and lack the tools to print an exact replica, but when it only takes an hour to print with specifications that are available for free online at a cost of only 15 cents (plus a little electricity)…isn’t it worth considering?  Even Amazon Prime same day delivery (not available where I live) can’t beat that timeline and price. 

The space station now has a printer that can, in effect, print almost anything it needs. Made In Space is a gravity-free 3D printer company that can print spare parts, tools and replacement parts, and recycle them after use. It started as the brainchild of a few folks in Silicon Valley who had the forethought that astronauts would benefit from the ability to print while in space rather than having to wait for the next space shuttle to bring replacement parts. They worked with Lowes and now have almost the entire Lowe’s catalog of parts available to print on demand. They can even print using different metal alloys and plastics, to accommodate strength and tensile requirements. Think of the time this saves…not to mention the enormous costs! 

So the question is…why keep days/weeks/years of inventory on hand if I can print what I need on demand? Not only does this save money on the unnecessary space, but it also eliminates the carrying costs of the inventory, freeing up cash flow and eliminating concerns of obsolescence. 

Suffice it to say that 3D printing will have a disruptive change on the future as we currently envision it. I imagine that warehouses will become much smaller and become more like print shops. I can also see a day when instead of ordering a physical item from Amazon, we will instead purchase a design and have it sent to a 3D print shop in my hometown where it can be picked up on the way home from work. Granted, some items require assembly, but not all items do.

The life of a supply chain manager might very well become one of a technician—someone who loads specs for replacement or new parts and 3D prints them as needed. The skills for today’s procurement professional have radically changed over the past few decades—and continue to evolve. Future procurement professionals will need computer skills and most likely some minor engineering skills—skills not currently required in most warehouses. Instead of picking and packing from a vast warehouse, the job will require printing and packing. Instead of going to a machinist to create replacement parts, a 3D printer will be able to “repair” it, scan it and print it.

Personal 3D printers are available for as little as $200 and can only print objects up to about 9 inches in diameter and 8 inches in height, but commercial grade 3D printers are now printing all kinds of items ranging from the most basic items like spatulas to bridges and even full houses.

Jay Leno, renowned for his automobile collection, is now 3D printing replacement parts for some of his older vehicles that need repair. He uses a NextEngine 3D scanner  and a Dimension 3D printer to scan and print parts as needed. Where before he would scour car shows and marketplaces for years to find an ornate replacement door handle for one of his old cars, he can can now just take the handle from one side, 3D scan it, reverse the image and then print it. 

What about 3D printing an entire vehicle? Yep—it’s possible. That is what Local Motors has done with their Strati car—a small roadster—and they’ve now come out with Olli, a 12-passenger bus that is mostly 3D printed. Using 3D printed material enables rapid mass production—case in point, the first Olli was created in a mere two weeks. Now, Local Motors is launching micro-factories across the country in order to meet their goal of producing 60,000 units a year, according to Local Motors CEO, Jay Rogers. 

The manufacturing process gives Olli environmental advantages as well. “Rogers claims that manufacturing the 3D printed materials uses 50% less carbon than traditional metals. The parts can be broken down and reused. Olli runs on electricity, with wireless recharging, and it is hoped widespread adoption could significantly impact pollution in urban areas.

So in summary, reduced carbon footprints, sustainable manufacturing and no need for mass warehouses…worth paying attention to? If I were a supply chain manager today I would take heed…the supply chain world is rapidly changing and smart professionals will pay attention to the direction we are heading, or in actuality already experiencing.

Dawn Tiura, President and CEO, SIG

Dawn Tiura, CEO and President of SIG, SIG University and Outsource, has over 26 years leadership experience, with the past 22 years focused on the sourcing and outsourcing industry. In 2007, Dawn joined SIG as CEO, but has been active in SIG as a speaker and trusted advisor since 1999, bringing the latest developments in sourcing and outsourcing to SIG members. Prior to joining SIG, Dawn held leadership positions as CEO of Denali Group and before that as a partner in a CPA firm. Dawn is actively involved on a number of boards promoting civic, health and children's issues in the Jacksonville, Florida area. Dawn is a licensed CPA and has a BA from the University of Michigan and an MS in taxation from Golden Gate University. Dawn brings to SIG a culture of brainstorming and internal innovation.