3D printing has been around since the 1980s, however, it is now poised to create a revolution in how products are produced and are delivered to us. Recently the largest global package delivery company, UPS, has joined forces with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) to give a detailed report outlining the projected growth of the 3D printing industry in the next coming years.
The report mentions that along with all the promising benefits, this technology may cause a painful shake-up in the manufacturing market in the transitional phase. The report also examined the impact the technology will have on traditional manufacturing processes and on the conventional supply chain. 3D printing technology may have reached the critical turning point due to the trend of falling costs and recent technological advances — allowing companies like UPS to create entirely new manufacturing centers in place.
New developments in 3D manufacturing are reported on almost a weekly basis. The above words were echoed by
According to Alan Amling, vice president of Marketing at UPS Global Logistics & Distribution, who spoke during this year’s SAP Aerospace & Defense Innovation event held in Dallas, 3D printing has captured the attention of industry leaders with its limitless possibilities and ease of application. Originally a tool of a few professional niche designers, 3D printing is now being transformed into a mainstream appearance, says Amling. With this, industry experts are anticipating a new industrial revolution and the redefinition of supply chain management.
3D Printing to Triple in Next 3 Years
3D printing is a concept which allows an engineering design to be manufactured into three dimensional objects. Amling, an expert in 3D printing and the manufacturing processes that it supports, told industry insiders that manufacturing principles have remained constant for several decades. They were determined by tooling costs, prototype production, minimum order quantities, slow production processes and quality assurance hurdles coupled with energy inefficiencies.
While acknowledging that 3D printing will not immediately take over all the production processes, Amling stated that it would significantly transform manufacturing. The impact of 3D printing on the current production process will be akin to the transformation e-commerce has had on the traditional retailing system.
The 3D manufacturing sector is growing fast and is expected to triple during the next three years. Assuming 3D printing obtains a 5% share of manufacturing production, this modest share will still translate into a $640 billion industry.
This is a huge sum, and the fact that 3D printing is a segment of the greater digital economy with all its growing potential, is creating excitement and huge investments by big companies.
Amling described the upcoming digital manufacturing economy as a global network with thousands of strategically located 3D printers able to create a flexible, on-demand real-time manufacturing cloud around the world.
During the Aerospace and Defense conference, Amling compared a 3D manufacturing technique, which produces a nozzle used by many airplanes as a single unit while in the current manufacturing system, the same nozzle takes over twenty different components and requires several stages to be produced. He gave another example how a manufacturer applies 3D printing technology to precisely produce a front bearing housing component designed to house 48 foils using titanium. Conventional production of such a structure would not be economically feasible, but using 3D printing it is.
But Why UPS?
The reason why Amling is so upbeat about 3D printing is that it will allow UPS to offer a revolutionary solution to manufacturers’ supply chain problems. UPS, known widely for courier deliveries, is also a global supply chain solutions provider. They maintain over 1,000 warehouses stocking various components for companies. If the 3D manufacturing concept is implemented, the physical inventory kept will be nil, freeing up funds for other activities and orders for crucial spare parts can be processed and delivered in real time around the world using 3D printing.
By partnering with a company called CloudDDM, UPS is planning on setting up a digitally connected manufacturing center at Louisville, Tennessee with the intention to integrate and link up to 1,000 3D printers to make on-demand prototypes and product parts for corporate customers.
The potential savings are immense as are the expected improvements in quality assurance and delivery time. No wonder that UPS is working to get ahead of the pack.
Other companies are watching keenly or are in the pilot stage of 3D manufacturing projects. This manufacturing revolution has already begun, the main question is how fast it will change the manufacturing industry and how many jobs will be created and more importantly how many will be destroyed by this inevitable revolution.
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