Recent months have proven that additive technologies can have a significant impact on the spread of so-called distributed manufacturing. In the current situation, when transport between different countries and continents is difficult, many companies have to abandon the standard supply chain that has worked well over the past years and find a solution that matches the new reality that is emerging before our eyes.
Earlier there were voices that 3D printing could disrupt global supply chains. In 2017, the ING report “3D printing: a threat to global trade” was published, in which the authors warned that the increase in its popularity may have a negative impact on the value of global trade, because 3D printers will significantly reduce the costs of production, logistics, shipping and a number of other factors. They also added that over the years we will meet with “a significant reduction in imports of mass-produced items to local, low-series on-demand production.” The crisis situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be an opportunity to start this type of production (e.g. replacement personal protective equipment) around the world.
Two years later, Fitch Ratings also published a report on the share of 3D printing in fitting out demand for goods logistics. The report reads that over the next 20 years, seaports and related infrastructure may be exposed to the destructive impact of 3D printing. Well, I must admit that in the face of the prevailing pandemic, the scenario presented has never seemed as realistic as it is now.
In the article by Mohsen Attaran “Additive Manufacturing: The Most Promising Technology to Alter the Supply Chain and Logistics” published in the Journal of Service Science and Management, changes in global logistics that may be caused by the implementation of additive technologies are presented. The information provided in this article is based on the data presented in the above publication.
Logistic processes constitute about 5% of the total value of goods. The ability to eliminate or reduce costs resulting from transport is one of the main advantages noticed by manufacturers. The savings from the implementation of additive technologies also result from the reduced need for storage, which is consistent with the operation of the Japanese Kanban method. The possibility of producing “on demand” without creating inventory has already been noticed by such giants as Daimler or Whirlpool.
The long-term effects of implementing 3D printing technology can have an impact on many factors such as reducing (!) production halls or warehouses to ultimately go to the on-demand production system – this is also the essence of Kanban. This, in turn, is associated with the possibility of work automation in many areas in accordance with the principles of Industry 4.0 and the so-called Factories of the Future, which in the long run is associated with a reduction in the number of full-time jobs for production employees and equipment costs (specialized tools).
The ability to produce anywhere, at a lower cost can make transport from the other end of the world completely unprofitable. Moreover, local production, even at the same place where the production takes place, can reduce the costs resulting from the procedure of redesigning parts, eliminating e.g. costs of re-transporting the changed element.
In his work Attaran also draws attention to the aspect related to the production of packaging. In the era of louder, ecological appeals, the possibility of reducing the amount of packaging produced, necessary for the safe transport of parts, may prove to be an interesting aspect.
One of the often mentioned advantages of additive technology is the ability to quickly apply changes to the design and transfer them to the physical product. In the case of logistics, production speed can also be an advantage. The use of additive technologies for so-called distributed production eliminates delays due to problems in a production plant located several dozen thousand kilometers away.
Of course, even in the absence of any delays, the waiting time for transport affects the overall delivery time. For production companies, local production is a kind of protection against situations almost impossible to predict, such as the temporary closure of production centers in China.
Local production is also combined with the possibility of so-called mass customization, i.e. tailoring products to the needs of users. We are talking here not only about gadgets, but among others about service parts. Thanks to 3D printing technology, you can easily design and create custom service parts in a very short time and eliminate costs related to storage and transport costs.
3D printing technology is often accompanied by a cliché phrase “freedom of design”. This applies to the entire design and production cycle – the ability to respond quickly to the needs and opinions of customers is possible thanks to local manufacturing centers promoted in the idea of distributed production.
Additive techniques are also mentioned in the publication as a way to create low-risk demand by producing small batches of product and observing market responses. If the product is well received, it can then be mass-produced by traditional methods to meet the high demand for the item.
It also allows you to adapt to managing uncertainty of demand and create flexible production plans, which in the case of uncertain situation in which almost the whole world was put, seem to be a necessity.
IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
An important aspect is the ability to reduce the carbon footprint of products, by limiting the physical movement of products, i.e. car, air or sea transport. Sustainable local production using additive technologies can be beneficial to our natural environment, also according to scientists.
At work, a fairly strong emphasis is placed on the fact that in the case of additive technologies, production takes place in an additive manner and is associated with a smaller number of post-production waste, which also needs to be managed and subject to logistics processes.
Additive production according to the principles of sustainable development is becoming simpler thanks to implemented projects whose assumption is to transform the linear recycling model into a cyclical one, so that the same raw material can be used up to several times.
The author of the publication refers to data provided by specialists from the McKinsey Global Institute, who recognized 3D printing as one of the twelve breakthrough technologies that will transform business and global economy by 2025. Admittedly, in the current situation, the expectation of decentralizing production is more likely than ever before. Raising awareness about new solutions and their potential benefits for production is key to remaining a competitive company on the modern market.