Regardless of what started the global supply chain crisis, it all comes down to one thing for manufacturing companies: The lack of vital parts for your production. Here, 3D printing can become a powerful ally.
The supply chain woes are clearly confirmed by a recent report from HUBS, Supply Chain Resilience. In the report, 98% of companies admit they need to act on these challenges, but only 63% have begun doing so.
During the pandemic, and afterwards, many manufacturing companies have had to take a hard look at their existing supply chain. Some have made agonizing efforts to find new suppliers. But, we have also seen several examples of companies using 3D printing to produce parts that are vital to their operations. This has led to a safer and more predictable supply chain.
The right parts just-in-time with 3D printing
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is very different from the traditional machining of parts. Firstly, it is an additive process. This means you add material, such as polymer, composite or metal, instead of removing it from a slab of plastic or metal, as in CNC milling. 3D printing also means you have virtually no limitations in terms of geometry. This adds greatly to the complexity of the part and can contribute to making parts more lightweight or top optimize functionality.
But, in the case of 3D printing in supply chain, the technology is used as an alternative to sourced parts, by either printing them inhouse, or through a local service bureau. This allows manufacturing companies to have parts just-in-time, with little or no inventory.
Another benefit is reduced lead times. Not just for the production of parts, but also in terms of consolidating assemblies (that take time) to one, single 3D printed part. Iteration, plus the frequency and speed of iterations, is another big argument for 3D printing.
In essence, the benefits of using 3D printing to mitigate supply chain hurdles can be summed up as follows:
- Shorten lead times
- Reduced warehouse costs
- Just-in-time parts
- Manufacture sustainably
- Reduced assembly
- Better performance of parts
- Iterate parts fast and freely
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Examples of companies using 3D printing in supply chain
To give you an idea of what is possible to achieve using your own 3D printer or outsourcing printing to a service bureau, take a look at these examples of companies.
After challenges with sourcing tools for their wind turbine production and installation, Danish company Vestas began exploring how to optimize their overall manufacturing process. By using smart software, digital warehousing and 3D printers from Markforged, the company can now produce whatever tool they need, whenever and wherever they need it.
Scaling up a startup can be woeful and costly. Danish company FarmDroid is using a fleet of 3D printers to not only print prototypes, but also for bridge production and certain parts that go on their prized agricultural robots.
Can we use 3D printing for our supply chain issues
So, how can you be sure that 3D printing is a good fit for manufacturing parts for your business? Firstly, you need to know the possibilities and limitations of 3D printing. What materials are available and what properties do they have? What results can I get with 3D printing in terms of tolerances, size, strenght, surface finish and more.
Secondly, you need to look at the parts you want to produce. Are any of these eligible for print instead of traditional machining? For example, a part of the right size manufactured in aluminium might as well be 3D printed in a reinforced carbon fiber composite. The part will be just as strong, but you can produce it faster and at a lower cost by 3D printing it inhouse.
If you need hands-on guidance in 3D printing for supply chain, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with our 3D printing team. They have tonnes of experience in helping companies with their 3D printing challenges.