Future-Proof On-Demand Supply Chain with 3D Printing

Design-rich experience and immediate product delivery are the new normal in consumer demand, which is forcing radical shifts in the global supply chain. 3D printing is a critical component to a successful transition to on-demand manufacturing.

On-demand products are customer-specific items produced at (or near) the point of need.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But for supply chain managers, nothing could be less simple. They will spend restless nights and long, bleary-eyed days in front of spreadsheets, trying to align their piece of operational model to the needs of on-demand manufacturing.

Why bother?

On-demand manufacturing will become the norm in consumer markets because:

  1. increasing numbers of consumers will own the means of production (3D printers);
  2. consumers are being trained to expect shorter and shorter delivery times; and
  3. consumers want access to customization and personalization of product design.

Traditional manufacturing simply won’t work to satisfy the demands of the new market, so manufacturers need to think ahead in a radical way.

Even a concept like next-day delivery, which seemed mind-blowing a few years ago, soon will seem as antiquated as codpieces on a suit of armor. On-demand manufacturing is becoming the norm — for new entrants like 3DEO, a metal 3D printing company, real-time responsiveness is their main value proposition.

Immediate gratification has gone global and digital.

A product’s digital design file will, in effect, be the commodity for some consumer goods sectors, with no need for packaging, inventory, or for physical transportation. Talk about flattening the supply chain. Instead, the supply chain will find itself steeped in the virtual world of cloud connectivity, automated ordering, and intellectual property rights.

For other manufacturers, those who will continue to produce physical products in the real world, the real question supply chain managers need to ask themselves isn’t: “Should we use 3D printing to manufacture products?” The real question is: “How do we shift to a digital, decentralized operational model?”

Traditional parts manufacturers as we know them could simply disappear as companies become more self-sustaining, printing final products or even replacement parts for machines in-house.

One big example of this is GE. They’re banking that their multi-billion-dollar investment in additive manufacturing (AM) will pay off on multiple levels without “squeezing the supply chain” or offshoring. Their new Brilliant Factories model allows them to design components and print them in a much smaller factory anywhere in their global footprint.

Kirk Rogers, GE’s Technology Leader at the Pittsburgh Center for Additive Technology Advancement (CATA), estimated that GE will recoup $3 billion to $5 billion within 10 years through AM and intelligent design by reducing part count.

Currently, more than half of AM production is devoted to prototyping, but McKinsey Global Institute predicts that the market for AM will explode to $550 billion a year by 2025  –  and it won’t get there through prototyping alone.

As Chuck Intrieri wrote, “The raw materials today are digital files and the machines that make them are wired and connected, faster and more efficient than ever. And that demands a new model  –  a need to go local, globally.”

Companies will produce parts on demand in small runs and in geographically decentralized points in their operational footprint. Eliminating traditional high-volume factory environments flattens the supply chain and lets businesses retool its workforce. Printing products and parts on demand also significantly decreases warehouse and transportation expenses. Supply chain managers will need to learn a new vernacular like metal injection molding, laser sintering, powder metals  –  and they’ll need to understand the opportunities and the limits of AM.

New AM technology (like 3D printers) continues to increase production speed, lower costs, and produce in a wider range of raw materials. In fact, the 3D-printing process  –  like 3DEO’s metal additive manufacturing process  –  delivers consistent, predictable output, build after build.

Will 3D printing kill traditional, subtractive manufacturing like computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling?


Many parts still require additional tooling, finishing, or even good old-fashioned manual assembly. But manufacturers interested in producing on-demand products won’t be able to tie themselves to traditional manufacturing to meet consumer expectations for immediacy. 3D printing offers additional cost-saving benefits, too, by reducing or eliminating tooling expenses.

The 3D-printing process for metal parts also reduces waste when compared to traditional methods.  As much as 90% of CNC parts can be waste, whereas metal additive manufacturing (AM) creates less than five percent waste on average.

For organizations that need to stage their transition into on-demand manufacturing, outsourcing production or incorporating a postponement strategy for final assembly may be small steps to test the on-demand model before committing to a massive infrastructure investment.

1 comment on “Future-Proof On-Demand Supply Chain with 3D Printing

  1. StephenGiderson
    September 27, 2018

    Considering all the difficulties that there is in reconciling, I'm sure that there are softwares that will be put together to help with all of those inconsistencies and manual comparisons. Sooner or later, everything will be automated to a point where we won't really have to worry about checking things by eye and by hand I think! It's just a matter of someone getting down to programming it all… That day will come soon enough if the existing softwares area not sufficient!

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