3D printing is fast evolving into a capability employed to manufacture unique product designs and tools. Will supply chain leaders be able to reliably deliver 3D printed goods without supply risk?
Supply chain leaders, as they look out over their domain, see sunny areas — and storm clouds. 85% of supply chain practitioners that Gartner recently surveyed reported their supply chain organization is now using or plans to invest in 3D printing within two years: 38% say they are using 3D printing today while 47% plan to within the next two years.
Whether they 3D print in-house or at a supplier or 3D print service bureau, these plans are a sea change from just three years ago. However, supply chain practitioners are ill-prepared for the expanded use of 3D printing, with 45% saying its use in mainstream production presents a significant challenge.
Balance the Opportunity and Risk of 3D Printing for Supply Chain
Source: Gartner (January 2018)
3D printing is not an isolated manufacturing operation — it is an end-to-end process. And meeting customer expectations requires the integration of unique 3D printable orders, designs, capacity and quality information that many supply chains are not ready for. The result is that supply chain leaders must focus on mitigating the risks that could disrupt product supply.
Now, every head of supply chain strategy worth their salt is concerned about supply chain risk. These leaders must now also understand how 3D printing will — not may, but will — impact their supply chain performance and reliability.
For example, designs that can only be 3D printed introduce supply risk by limiting supplier choice. Anyone responsible for supply chain strategy must:
- determine if their current preferred supply partners can support new designs using 3D printing
- be involved early in new product design process to ensure this specialized 3DP supply capability is available to support production targets
- assess the sources of unique 3D printable materials that may be required, and
- be involved as supply chains shift from abundant, low-cost suppliers to complex, new product designs available from a small base of suppliers with 3D printing capability and capacity
Today more than ever leaders must take a strategic view of 3D printing as an end-to-end process that impacts the supply chain. They are doing this by mapping the input and output flows of materials and information required for by the 3D printing (and finishing) processes. And by recognizing that their peers in manufacturing management abhor any risk to their established conventional production and assembly processes.
Manufacturers across regulated industries are successfully certifying parts, including GE and Airbus in aerospace, BMW in automotive and Align Technology in the medical device industry. These companies and many others have demonstrated they can identify and control the parameters that are critical to quality and that result in robust, reliable and repeatable 3D print production.
Will supply chain leaders be able to deliver 3D printed designs without supply risk? Yes, but only by having a strategic, mountain top perspective on the impact of additive manufacturing on the supply chain that is coupled with the attention to details and preparation that got them to the summit in first place.
This post is based on the recent report by Mike Burkett and me, Take a Strategic View of 3D Printing to Maximize Its Value Within Your Supply Chain.
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