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Solving Supply Chain Issues with 3D Printing

A free Design News webinar looks at the ways 3D printing is helping companies overcome supply chain issues.

Rob Spiegel

March 16, 2022

3 Min Read

Persistent supply chain troubles are prompting North American manufacturers to seek supply production closer to home. One major solution is the production use of 3D printing. The additive manufacturing process allows for just-in-time inventory that is close at hand. Some manufacturers are turning to service companies, while others are setting up 3D print production in-house.

Design News will present a free webinar on the topic – Additive Manufacturing and 3DP Can Solve Off-Shore Supply Chain Issues – on March 30 at 2:00 pm Eastern.

According to a study on 3D printing by Formlabs, 48% of businesses are using 3D printing for small-batch custom piece production. Additionally, the frequent use of 3D printing to create end-use parts is skewed towards recent adopters, with 63% of recent adopters frequently or always using 3D printing for end-use parts, compared to only 33% of early adopters.

The Great Pandemic Test

Recent adopters have apparently shed the view that 3D printing is primarily a product-design tool that focuses on prototyping. There are a number of reasons for this. 3D printing has evolved into a practical production technology. The technology earned its bona fides during the pandemic when 3D printing was widely deployed to quickly produce PPE and ventilator parts. Both additive manufacturers and traditional manufacturers – such as GM and Ford – turned to 3D printing to fill in the significant gaps in the global supply chain. During that impressive worldwide demonstration, 3D printing gained full acceptance as a legitimate and useful production method.

Related:Can Additive Compete with Traditional Manufacturing in Aerospace?

There are two primary ways in which a business can take advantage of additive manufacturing. They can use a 3D printing service bureau, or they can build an in-house production system.

Use 3D Print Services.

Companies are speeding up innovation and solving supply chain disruptions by using 3D printing as a service. Users can benefit from the expertise of 3D printing professionals to quickly produce prototypes or jump-start the manufacturing of quality products.

It can be as simple as sending CAD files to the 3D printing company. The service bureau will then 3D print the parts and mail them back. This method has no upfront investment costs, but recurring printing costs are expensive in the long run. Outsourcing can sometimes create long lead times, with firms having to wait anywhere from one week to one month to receive their prints. Because of this, some companies with recurring production needs will bring their 3D printing in-house.

Related:Additive Manufacturing as Bridge Production and Other Uses

Invest in In-House 3D printing.

Empowering internal teams with their own 3D printers does come with an upfront investment cost, but it lowers the cost per print significantly compared to outsourcing. It also eliminates shipping, meaning prints can be used immediately after completion. In-house 3D protects businesses from supply chain shocks, meaning production is not interrupted by shipping delays.

Due to the declining equipment costs, in-house 3D printing has become more prevalent. Over 70% of Formlab’s study participants indicated their company currently uses 3D printers, with the majority printing in-house (55%) compared to outsourced 3D printing (17%). This trend aligns with the recent proliferation of professional desktop printers that now offer similar quality to industrial machines of the past for a fraction of the price.

Again, Design News will present a free webinar on the topic – Additive Manufacturing and 3DP Can Solve Off-Shore Supply Chain Issues – on March 30 at 2:00 pm Eastern.

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel has served as senior editor at Electronic News and Ecommerce Business, covering the electronics industry and Internet technology. He has served as a contributing editor at Automation World and Supply Chain Management Review. Rob has contributed to Design News for 10 years.

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