Can 3D printing shorten supply chains?

3D printing is a complex branch of new manufacturing technology that turns 3D designs into tangible objects by building up layers. This modern process was first invented in the 1980s, but it has evolved dramatically in the past few years. Depending on how complex the design is, the 3D printing process currently takes anywhere between 4 and 24 hours.

3D printing is now used predominantly for Rapid Prototyping, but there are three other distinct market segments that are benefiting from the technology: Moulds and Tooling, Digital Manufacturing and Personal Fabrication. Christopher Barnatt explains the range of 3D technologies on his website, Explaining the Future.

Rapid Prototyping

3D printing has become a designer’s dream thanks to the huge benefits it offers to manufacture goods – namely, a faster, more efficient and ultimately cheaper pre-production process.

In-store 3D printing

One of the first retailers to introduce 3D printing services was the UPS Store back in 2014. After testing the services with much success throughout the US, the company implemented this new technology at several of its stores. One of its biggest success stories to date is the announcement that one of the startup companies that took part in the pilot will be using the facilities for manufacturing on a large scale.

Effects on supply chains

Let’s say, for example, that you require lin bins to fit your bin rack. If you were to place your order before 3 pm Monday to Thursday, your item would more than likely be delivered the next day. If it was after 3 pm, you’d have to wait two days to receive the item. Now imagine that you could order such an item as late as midnight and have the item land at your door by 9 am the following morning. The expanding 3D printing industry may well make these cuts to supply chains possible in the not-too-distant future.

Consequently, retailers like the UPS Store need to take notice of this new 3D printing trend as it could have an impact on the profitability of their business. 3D printing has the potential to shake up the local transportation industry if the technology becomes too easily accessible. Alternatively, 3D printing could be a blessing in disguise for companies like UPS, opening up an array of opportunities for a new market in production and delivery.

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