« Reflecting on Supply Chain Education | Main | RFID Grows from Common Sense Logistics to Potential Life-Saving Equipment »

3D Printing and the Next Big Shift in the Global Supply Chain Network

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 03/17/2015 | 5:24 AM | Categories: Current Affairs


Guest Post By Dr. Mindy Perot, faculty member at American Public University

3-D printing is another term for additive manufacturing, an emerging technology utilized to fabricate items in a layer-by-layer process. This is the exact opposite to the conventional machining, forging, molding, and casting processes that exist in today’s manufacturing operations. This technology will influence logistics and supply chain operations, causing the next big shift in the global supply chain network.

Currently, the technology is limited to prototyping, customization, and production of small volume items because of the expense and time required to facilitate the process. However, as we have seen with all predecessors, prices will come down and processes will become faster, allowing for an economically feasible and higher volume capability.

Impact on Logistics and Supply Chain Operations

Waste Elimination–The newer technology prevents the scrap and waste that the traditional subtractive and reductive processes create while still maintaining the lean and quality advantages of conventional processes. 

Reduced and New Inventory Requirements–The ability to produce an item at the point of need significantly reduces the requirement to hold inventory. In addition, items in inventory would become gases and raw materials in the forms of powder, requiring different and reduced warehousing requirements.

Different Relationships with Suppliers and Retailers–The tiers of component suppliers may not be required because the manufacturing process of all items could take place in a single facility. Orders could be placed by the customer, fulfilled directly by the manufacturer, and shipped direct from the manufacturer to the customer—eliminating the need for intermediate retailers

Expanded Flexibility–The capability offers more flexibility when it comes to customization and shorter lead times. Traditional manufacturing processes focus on standardization and achievement of economies of scale to gain efficiencies. The new capability leans more toward economies of scope instead of economies of scale in manufacturing processes.

Reduced Transportation Costs–Products are often lighter in weight, which could cause changes in transportation systems. Manufacturing locations could change because products that were once produced at another location to take advantage of low cost labor and/or raw materials and tiered suppliers could now be near-sourced reducing the shipping volumes and requirements and vastly changing shipment profiles.

Reduced Carbon Footprint–In addition to the reduction in waste, 3-D printing requires less energy to facilitate the manufacturing processes.

Challenges of 3-D Printing

There are challenges associated with 3-D printing such as regulatory and policy barriers, challenges with safety considerations of products manufactured and the shipment and storage of the raw materials, potential issues associated with patents and how digital files would be maintained and exchanged, and more environmental considerations and restrictions on materials.

“In 2012, President Obama called for the creation of a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), consisting of regional hubs to accelerate development, scale-up, and adoption of cutting edge manufacturing technologies” ( Additive Manufacturing Portal). Further in Aug. 2012, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute was established and in Oct. 2013 it announced its new identity, America Makes.

As more senior level emphasis and research and development are applied to the application of 3-D printing, the closer it becomes to a reality. Some have predicted that it will take less than 10 years for this capability to be widely implemented.

About the Author

Dr. Mindy Perot teaches courses in transportation and logistics management as adjunct faculty for American Public University and in a full time capacity serves as a Course Director at the Army Logistics University. Prior to this, Dr. Perot worked on the business side supporting pursuits to improve logistics and supply chain operations for the Army. Her research interests include logistics, supply chains, leadership, and adult education.




By submitting your comments, you agree to our Terms of Service.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

Recent Comments

Subscribe to DC Velocity

Subscribe to DC Velocity Start your FREE subscription to DC Velocity!

Subscribe to DC Velocity
Go digital