The proliferation of 3D printing feels like a ?this changes everything? moment. So far, the technology is still a novelty for the average consumer, appearing in maker spaces and the like where people can use them on occasion.
But change is coming. Slowly, the devices are making their way into businesses; some experts believe, they?ll?make their way into homesone day. How will that change the world?
The answer is, ?monumentally,? and it all begins with disrupting the supply chain. With the power to print customized, single items quickly, 3D printers in businesses and homes will entirely change how goods move around the world.
Though direct printing in homes is an extreme example that may not manifest itself any time soon, there?s nothing to stop the same concept from eliminating the supply chain between businesses and manufacturers.
A 2012 report from Transport Intelligence -?The Implications of 3D Printing for the Global Logistics Industry?- examined just what impact that change could have.
?A proportion of goods which were previously produced in China or other Asia markets could be ?near-sourced? to North America and Europe,? according to an excerpt of the report published by?smartplanet. ?This would reduce shipping and air cargo volumes.?
And without the need to ship those things, the need to store, handle and distribute them disappears as well. The transportation cost savings would be incredible.
Cutting Lead Time
Money isn?t the only thing 3D printing can save. Time matters in production, and when design changes can be done in less steps, the development and retooling process is considerably shorter.
?[A]s 3D printing allows shorter manufacturing lead times (think minutes, not weeks or even days), 3D printers will also be utilized throughout the supply chain,? wrote Gavin Davidson for?NetSuite, a cloud-based software company. ?It?s not just for the designer of the end product, but imagine a global supply network where every supplier has a 3D printer that the designer can ?print? to at any time.
?It?s almost Star Trek?s replicators.?
That?s fast ? science fiction-fast.
Another factor involved in the speed and efficiency of lead time is how easy it is to customize products. The?Harvard Business Review Blog?wrote that the result of applying 3D printing to commercial products would be goods that are ?infinitely more customized.? And everyone knows how much consumers love custom products. That can only be good news for business.