3D Printing in the Supply Chain
- Published: 25 Jun 2017
Implications of 3D printing on the supply chain
Generally, with major technological advances comes major changes to the once-standard way of doing things. This may be true when 3D printing is perfected and adopted by the logistics industry.
No customs delays
Perhaps the most glaring affect 3D printing will have on the industry is that, for those with 3D printers, borders and customs will be completely irrelevant and bypassed, since a schematic file (basically a blueprint) could be sent to the chosen 3PL via the Internet. No more delays because of customs. Possible delays in a future logistics industry in which 3D printing is prevalent will be because one of the parties involved does not have an internet connection or if all 3D printers are currently busy.
No longer necessary to store replacement parts/possibly anything
Replacement parts are a significant portion of the industry, especially in warehouses. There are warehouses that are dedicated to storing replacement parts for older models of cars, for example, just in case a part is needed. This is expensive. With 3D printing replacement parts no longer need to be stored in a warehouse, but a schematic file could be sent to a trusted logistics provider to hold on to and to 3D print a replacement part whenever it is needed.
This could also extend to any other printable product. Without physical storage, the logistics industry is without one of its major pillars.
Intellectual Property Issues
Due to the versatile nature of 3D printing, products could be printed at the manufacturer’s plant, but significantly cheaper, and then the product could be shipped out just like it is now. 3D printing allows for a schematic file (basically a blueprint) to be sent to a 3D printer to print a product. A third-party logistics company could then 3D print the product at their facility. With 3D printing, products can be immediately stored, if needed, and/or delivered quicker, as the contacted 3PL will undoubtedly be closer to the product’s destination. However, it also opens up a huge legal issue of intellectual property. How will the schematic file be treated? Who owns the file? Is the file leased? These are some of the many questions that will have to be answered before 3D printing can truly affect the supply chain.
The Future Logistics Company – 4PL?
With the supply chain possibly changing fundamentally, this may force many logistics companies to change, as well. 3PLs, for example, may resemble a 4PL instead. This 4PL of the future will manage a mix of software development and delivery services, primarily, while managing return and recycling services and other general planning tasks.
If the 3D printing technology evolves as many expect it to, the logistics industry will be significantly transformed.
Sources Manners-Bell, John, and Ken Lyon. "The Implications of 3D Printing for the Global Logistics Industry." SupplyChain247. January 23, 2014. Accessed June 22, 2017. http://www.supplychain247.com/article/the_implications_of_3d_printing_for_the_global_logistics_industry
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