Consumer Products Supply Chain Disruptor: 3D Printing

3D Printing Consumer Products Blog Article

The use of advanced technologies is significantly transforming the manufacturing of all products and having a tremendous impact on the supply chain.  Internet of Things, BOTS, Machine Learning, Blockchain, Augmented Reality and others are changing the way products are designed, produced, shipped and ultimately purchased and acquired by consumers.  While all these technologies deliver many amazing benefits, they need to be considered disruptors as integrating them into current and future business processes and practices can disrupt the flow of business as much as it helps. One advanced technology that has been around for a while but is now taking the world by storm and disrupting manufacturing and the supply chain is 3D Printing. 

3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing is a process of creating objects or things by layering materials.  It is called additive because with each step the object is built up and takes form and shape.  Traditional manufacturing of objects usually involves a process of creating products from bulk materials and using a reduction process.  This technology will help companies reduce costs in almost all areas of business, improve customer service and help gain a competitive advantage by being adaptable to market changes.  3D printing is a highly disruptive advanced technology that is impacting the supply chain today and has the power to transform the supply chain of the future.

3D printing can have a number of significant impact to the supply chain.  In fact, I believe we don’t even know what the full impact of the technology can and will be in the future.  That is where the disruption occurs.  Knowing exactly when to implement a new technology and how to do it.  There are six areas where 3D printing is starting to disrupt the market and will continue for some time.

“Real”-  Just In Time (JIT)

The term “Just In Time” has been around forever and can mean different things to different people.  3D printing can simplify the production process of many items thus reducing the response time it takes to deliver orders and thus providing products truly “just in time”. The response time to satisfy orders is greatly reduced and the 3D printing technology provides increased flexibility to respond to more orders for more products than ever before.  Production cycles are reduced and the production effort is simplified allowing for quicker response to demand.  3D Printing will allow companies to be more make to order-driven which will allow for quicker time to market.  The technology could be transportable or portable to allow businesses to serve more local markets.  This would enable a real just in time environment.  Another benefit would be to be less reliant on goods from low cost producing economies.  Given today’s global political tensions, this could be minimize the effects of a trade war. 

Enterprise Asset Management

The equipment used in this technology is such that it can replace larger and more expensive equipment to turnaround production more quickly. 3D printing technology might be able to replace or at least supplement larger more costly machines to produce the same products.  This will save companies millions.  In addition to less upfront costs for expensive machinery, manufacturers will save money as 3D printing machines in many cases are less costly than traditional machines.  Another critical improvement will be in the area of repair and maintenance.  These printers are less cumbersome than traditional equipment and prone to fewer breakdowns.  This improves uptime, manufacturing efficiencies and increases customer service levels.  If and when a repair is needed, it is less costly, less time consuming and, think about it, a manufacturer can have 3D printing capabilities on-site to create their own repair parts.  Saving even more time and money.

Inventory Reduction

As this technology develops, and more products and materials are produced by 3D printing, the need to hold and carry inventory is reduced.  The need to purchase raw materials and components will also be reduced as companies will now be able to produce a number of their own parts.  Quicker production turnaround also reduces the amount of time manufacturers need to carry raw materials and work-in-process (wip) inventories.   On-demand production of finished goods, as well as the ability to now produce products closer to the demand and delivery points, will greatly reduce the amount of finished goods that need to be stored and potentially shipped.

Reduced Time to Market and Shorter Lead Times

3D printing is already impacting the design and development process to reduce concept to market time which is leading to competitive advantages to those manufacturers using this technology.  Prototyping and design processes are quicker.  Engineers can design and test a new product or feature in minutes or hours versus days and weeks.  This process allows for products to go from design to shelf much quicker than the traditional and current methods.  In today’s competitive market, this is critical for success.  Companies need to get their new products to market fast.  Products come and go faster than ever before and consumers today are the new product development teams.  3D printing allows for manufacturers to experiment and deliver what the consumer wants when they want it.

Simplified Supply Chains

The “I want it yesterday” mentality that has come with next day delivery for many items has complicated the supply chain.  The value chain for consumer packaged products has expanded.  There are more ways for consumers to acquire goods.  The traditional go-to “this type of store” for “this type of item” really doesn’t exist anymore.  Club stores, on-line ordering, convenient stores, vending machines, and other venues provide products that used to only be available in a specialty market.  3D printing for many products will reduce the value chain and simplify the supply chain minimizing steps and touchpoints for goods which will allow the consumer to greater and faster access to products.

Customized Products

Individualism, especially in consumer products and food is at an all-time high.  Consumers are looking to make products “their own” add their own touches and create something unique.  Manufacturers can provide more product offerings and customize products easier.  Consumers will have access to customized products as more and more retailers implement 3D printing into the marketplace.

The disruption has begun.  3D printing is growing at an extremely fast rate and is contributing to a manufacturing transformation.  This will impact supply chains in many industries and at all inventory levels from components, materials to finished products.  Manufacturers especially those in the Consumer Product Sectors that need to respond to change quickly need to begin dealing with this transformation and preparing for it.  Embracing the technology and having the processes and systems in place to utilize the benefits of 3D printing will enable a manufacturer to become an agile effective enterprise.