What impact can 3D printing have on the supply chain?

3D printing is a relatively new development, which seemed to be a vision of the future just a few years ago. Today, anyone can use it. The progress of this technology will visibly influence many sectors of the economy, including logistics.

Analyze and deliver

To see it for yourself, you just need to analyze the current process of manufacturing an item and delivering it to the customer. After the concept of any given element is born and its prototypes are appropriately tested, it’s passed on to manufacturing.

Then it’s packed, sent to warehouses and then to shops, and eventually finds its way to the hands of the customer. As you can see, before it reaches its final destination, it is handled by middlemen who gradually increase its price.

With 3D printing many of these stages are dropped. In many cases the user can easily print the entire item or at least elements to make this item from. There is essentially no transport involved, except for the transfer of data of the model and the delivery of the material for the printer. The process takes place almost entirely in one location.

Does this mean 3D printing will kill off logistics? No, but it’s already being predicted that as the technology develops, manufacturing processes will be simplified as will the supply chain. This, in turn, will mean less work in transport. By 2020 the amount of cargo deliveries from Asia to Europe may drop by 5 per cent. This won’t be a big problem, but will certainly be noted within the transport and logistics services. Unless it adjusts to the changes, which is also possible.

New opportunities

But when one loses, someone else might gain something. That’s the way it is in this case as well. Such a profound change in the supply chain offers a big chance to most entrepreneurs, and they know it. A DHL survey about problems with the supply chain states clearly that 22 per cent manufacturers intend to start using 3D printing by 2019, and another 30 per cent by 2020. This means that before the 2010s are over, more than half of manufacturers of various goods will use this technology. This will alter world trade completely.

First of all, its a wonderful opportunity for smaller companies. Thanks to 3D printing they will have a large amount of independence from foreign companies and factories. Contacts with manufacturing centers, storing the goods, transporting them to wholesalers, shops and customers, all of these stages will be simplified, limited or eliminated altogether. Every item will be manufactured quickly and easily. This will save money and in turn will let the company lower its prices and make its inventory more interesting.

3D printing is huge chance for logistics

Widespread availability of 3D printing will also make it easier to enter the market. Not long ago you needed a lot of money to make your product known. Now you can commence basic level manufacturing on your own and then expand it as you go along, perhaps to end up in a large factory. This is a huge chance for small companies and enthusiasts with impossible ideas—impossible until now. This process will also be beneficial to customers: more companies means more competition.

3D printing can change many fields, including logistics. For many companies and consumers these changes will be advantageous. They’ll bring about huge savings and will drastically lower the bar you need to clear to enter the market, and thus they’ll increase the number of competing entities. As you can see, the benefits of making 3D printing more common aren’t limited to entrepreneurs. The change will be important to ordinary consumers.