Metal 3D printing alleviates supply chain weaknesses exposed by pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the global supply chain, and 3D printing is helping solve the problem – transforming manufacturing along the way.

Supply chain disruptions increased 67% year-over-year in 2020, with pandemic disruptions accounting for the most damage, according to an annual report from Supply Chain Risk Monitor Resilinc . A year and a half into this unprecedented period and we are reaching an inflection point that is reverberating around the world in the form of supply shortages and delays for key components. Corporate profits are affected by delays in the supply chain.

So many companies have found themselves uncomfortably exposed to supply chain risks beyond their control, which has delayed product release and led to soaring prices weighing heavily on their bottom line. The pandemic has highlighted the need for manufacturing solutions that can be more easily managed and scaled internally.

As metal 3D printing has become increasingly ubiquitous and affordable, with companies able to print everything from medical tools to auto parts, companies have an opportunity to reduce their reliance on the fragile supply chain. global supply. By making components closer to home through additive manufacturing, companies can shift to a more localized, on-demand method of manufacturing. They can save time, money and make work from offshore locations.

Companies like 3DEO, a leader in the mass production of 3D printed metal parts, have introduced the Manufacturing Cloud and additive printing technologies allow OEMs to more closely monitor their production lines so they can respond in real time to fluctuations in demand, thereby bypassing external risks affecting supply chains. By fine-tuning product development through an integrated platform, companies are able to quickly change logistics to better cope with rapidly changing conditions on the ground. This is especially important when it comes to a product containing many different metal components, which often come from all over the world.

Some companies in 2020 and 2021 had to delay whole product launches and shipments due to a single component caught in the supply chain shoe. 3D printing technologies offered a way out allowing them to resume their activities more quickly with competitive prices that set them apart from the competition. 3DEO has taken metal 3D printing to unprecedented levels, and even competes with traditional manufacturing like CNC machining and metal injection molding, even in high production volumes. The company shipped its millionth production part in July, sparing many of its customers these supply chain problems.

Companies that have started to switch to additive manufacturing in recent years are reporting huge savings in time and money. Ford began testing large-scale 3D printing of certain auto parts in 2017 and says rapid manufacturing has changed the way its engineers develop and test cars by reducing the burden of sourcing required components. What used to take four months and $ 500,000 to produce and purchase a prototype, now only takes four days and a few thousand dollars thanks to 3D printing. “You can come up with a really optimized part at the end of the day,” says Paul Susalla, Ford’s Rapid Manufacturing Section Supervisor. “This is all thanks to the speed with which we can produce prototype parts without tools. These aren’t just irrelevant car parts either; they are of quality. Some of Ford’s 3D printed components have driven hundreds of thousands of miles and crash tested at 70 mph, which the automaker says has resulted in better quality vehicles at a more affordable price.

Being able to produce components at home allows for a shift to a more on-demand mindset, which is crucial in meeting daily fluctuating needs. It also saves a business money, both reducing the time and cost of shipping and stocking spare and scarce parts. Shifting from mass production in cheap overseas locations to local on-demand assembly centers powered by new metal 3D printing technologies, manufacturers can only produce what they need. DHL data shows that hundreds of millions of spare parts for products as diverse as cars, watches and x-ray machines are stranded around the world at all times. Some of them are infrequently used and may never be needed, posing an expensive burden that creates inefficiency in a company’s supply chain. Case studies estimate that the actual share of excess inventory can sometimes exceed 20%, with inventory being supplied and stored with no guarantee that it will never come off the shelves. Additive manufacturing can help eliminate this risk by switching to an as-needed production model, so that they are only produced on proof of demand.

The future of manufacturing is on demand and in real time. For example, 3DEO’s Manufacturing Cloud enables real-time scaling to meet changing needs. Businesses can quickly scale up or scale down in real time based on normal fluctuations, as they retain full control of the additive manufacturing process, allowing them to adapt more efficiently, thereby increasing their competitive advantages in terms of time and cost. cost. Massive supply chain disruptions, such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, correlate directly with price increases. Companies that manufacture components in-house through 3D printing are able to produce items faster and more affordably, reducing those risks and undermining competitors still handcuffed to traditional manufacturing. MIT analysis suggests that 3D printing could reduce total supply chain costs by 50-90% as production shifts from offshore manufacturing-to-stock facilities that require a heavy reliance on freight to facilities of. on-demand manufacturing located closer to the end customer.

Additive manufacturing solutions represent a new type of industrial revolution at a time when the weaknesses of the supply chain are imposed directly on the operation of the company. Vast savings in the form of time and money are rewarded for those who wish to switch to a 3D printing methodology. New efficiencies in the supply chain can be unlocked, minimizing risk factors like COVID-19.


About the Author: Matt Sand received three bachelor’s degrees from Tulane University in computer science, mathematics and political science. After graduating, he joined the US Air Force as a communications officer. While stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Matt led a team of 23 and was responsible for all basic IT services. Matt then received his MBA from UCLA Anderson with a major in Entrepreneurship. Shortly after graduating, he co-authored a book, The Agile Startup, with an entrepreneurship professor. The book was published by Wiley & Sons in 2013. Since obtaining his MBA, Matt has played various roles in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He has founded or co-founded several startups, invested in start-ups in two venture capital funds based in Southern California, taught entrepreneurship courses at UCLA and LMU and consulted dozens of innovative companies from all sizes.