The connecting power of technology has the potential to make a wide world smaller. One example of this is the impact of 3D printing, as it turns global into local, mega into mini, and shrinks supply chains worldwide.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing has the ability to take an idea or physical product to the digital world, then create the item in 3D format anywhere across the world. This mode of manufacturing has serious potential to disrupt, decentralise and localise production.
Decentralisation of production is fast becoming a ‘hot topic’ in the manufacturing world. It involves distributing manufacturing geographically so that a producer can make products closer to the customer.
The benefits of decentralised production include:
- A competitive advance in time to market and delivery
- Lower shipping costs
- More responsiveness to customers’ needs in a niche market
- Reduced material waste
- Increased production flexibility
- Newer goods can be designed faster, rolled out quicker and be given to customers more rapidly
- Manufacturers can also cut out distributors, resellers and other intermediaries and do business with end customers directly.
How decentralised production benefits maintenance, repair and operations
Particularly in industries such as aviation and the automotive industry, multiple spare parts are kept on hand in warehouses and repair centres. Any delays in maintenance and repairs prove costly. But with 3D printing, qualified parts can be made on-demand, lessening the need to create and store an excess of spares. Thus, instead of one central factory producing parts and spares, multiple machining centres can produce parts on-demand locally.
For example, Mercedes-Benz has begun making 3D printed spare parts that are typically only needed in small batches. They can even create individual orders of out-of-production parts that may be hard to source. Essentially, if the software is on file, these parts can be produced with minimal set-up costs.
With decentralised, local production right there in the workshop, car companies can provide owners with almost instant availability of obscure parts with no transportation costs.
What does truly local manufacturing look like?
Truly local manufacturing is when a product is made entirely in a postal code area or region. A manufacturing unit will produce goods (possibly using 3D printing) for that specific region. Looking at a different method of manufacturing, a small-scale network of ‘micro-factories’ could provide manufacturing-as-a-service for various brands at once. This localised production would reduce shipping and distribution costs as well as environmental impact.
The role of 3D printing in decentralised manufacturing
3D printing could allow for an entirely locally-situated supply chain with only the plans for products being sent electronically to end receivers, as opposed to sending a tangible product.
Additive manufacturing technology is becoming more and more sophisticated, making it an increasingly accessible solution for businesses of all sizes and scope. At Rapid 3D, our team have a wealth of experience in this exciting field and are well-positioned to guide and advise your business on the many uses of 3D printing.