In January this year, the Nordic logistics specialist PostNord installed their very first HP MJF 4200 3D printer. Together with PLM Group as a partner, the company is poised to disrupt supply chain and logistics operations by offering digital warehousing and local manufacturing.
The 3D printing activities at PostNord still raise quite a few eyebrows. Many have a hard time figuring out what 3D printing and logistics have in common. For the past three years, PostNord has been hard at work to create their business model and evaluate 3D printing technology. Their goal? To fundamentally change the market.
“It’s been of great importance to root for the right type of technology”, says Tomas Lundström head of 3D at PostNord. “We definitely don’t want to overinvest in equipment, but rather focus on our business model. With our new HP MJF 4200 printer, we are able to take a step closer to our customers’ needs.”
”Now that we have worked for a few years with 3D printing, we see an increased demand for larger batches, which makes the HP MJF 4200 ideal with its high speed and versatile material.”
How can 3D printing change logistics?
Looking at PostNord’s core business, logistics and supply chain, these are two largely untapped areas when it comes to 3D printing. But the potential is huge. Companies know how much they spend, but are unsure of what they should spend. What we do know is that warehousing alone is a 300 billion dollars business globally. So, how can 3D printing be used to improve operations?
“There’s currently a lot of talk about digital warehousing”, says Tomas Lundström. “We are one of the largest Nordic logistics companies and provide warehousing as well. If our customers want to reduce their costs in this area, then we need to provide them with a solution. This is where digitization comes in to play. A good example would be the possibility to store spare parts digitally and then 3D printing these.”
Ease of use is business critical
PostNord has put considerable resources in creating an easy to use digital interface for ordering 3D printed parts. The result is an online order portal. Compared to the average ecommerce solution, it’s a complex process with several steps, but for the user, it’s an intuitive experience and a service that aims to simplify ordering 3D printed parts.
“It’s basically a question of building a virtual interface for a factory”, says Tomas Lundström. “In our 3D printing portal, customers can order their parts and get a heap of valuable features, such as automatic geometry control. And as we can track all orders, we get a slew of data, such as average part size, material use et cetera. This is how we found out that the majority of all our 3D print orders were printed with HP’s MJF technology.”
Making the case for 3D printing
Traditional manufacturing isn’t always the right way. Initial costs are high, tools are expensive, and if you want to make product changes, you need to order a new tool. Then there’s the cost of warehousing.
“We believe that with 3D printing we are changing the product life cycle”, says Tomas Lundström. “3D printing can be used at all stages of the life cycle, from prototyping to spare parts.”
For some verticals, 3D printing is already a mature technology, others have just begun to scratch the surface. Educating and convincing companies of the benefits of 3D printing is part of Tomas’ mission.
“Many customers don’t make the connection between their operations and 3D printing”, says Tomas Lundström. “Our task is to show them what is possible, and we do this by showcasing the more trivial applications, such as the toilet roll holder we are now printing for train lavatories.”
“Working with a local partner is equally important for us to reach our goal. PLM Group provides us with that invaluable core competence, and, just like us, they’re a Nordic company.”
“The future of a more sustainable manufacturing and supply chain industry and society is within our reach, thanks to the 3D printing technology becoming more and more available. To accelerate adoption, the need to embrace change across multiple organizations within is of high importance. We’re here to help along the way.”
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