Rapid Prototyping: The Disruptive Technology Changing the Traditional Manufacturing Supply Chain

It is undeniable to consider rapid prototyping as a revolutionary technology that holds the potential to disrupt the conventional part manufacturing techniques. Estimated to be a $6 billion market by 2017, rapid prototyping or 3D printing is destined to create number of opportunities along with threats for manufacturers around the globe.

Since the technology is opening the doors for customized on-demand parts, it is likely for manufacturers to consider revamping their business models, if they are willing to sustain in such a disruptive market. While best in class companies are already experimenting and benefiting from this technology, it is imperative for other players as well to re-imagine their manufacturing and supply chain processes.

How Rapid Prototyping Can Shrink the Supply Chain?

The process of producing part or product speeds up as supply chain shrinks with the adoption of 3D printing. Consider a car owner needing a part replacement for its vehicle; he orders a part online, receives a barcode from the manufacturer and gets it printed at any local 3D printing center.

The same could be useful for aircraft applications as well; where any faulty part, irrespective of any geographic location can be replaced, simply printing the part at any airport. This process considerably reduces the supply chain – almost to a single link, and eliminates the requirement of prototyping, deployment, production, delivery and warehousing.

This major change in supply chain is even realized by manufacturers, which is reflected in a survey conducted by PwC in association with The Manufacturing Institute, where almost 30% of US manufacturers believe that the greatest disruption with wide spread adoption of rapid prototyping will be re-structuring the supply chains. However, the same research also reveals that manufacturers also consider threat to intellectual property as one of the major disruptive effects of 3D printing on manufacturing.

Apart from avoiding the production of less popular parts, manufacturers can even utilize rapid prototyping to tests their product first, prior to turning traditional high-volume manufacturing. This strategy significantly reduces responsibilities in handling inventories and also controls supply chain costs.

It is in the interest of manufacturers then, to realize the potential of such disruptive technology and align their business models accordingly as soon as possible. Training the resources and seeking external support from rapid prototyping service providers can provide an initial push to integrate 3D printing or additive manufacturing with their conventional processes. Once the benefits are realized, supply chain and business models can be re-imagined to gain overall success for the organization.

About Author: Gaurang Trivedi is Engineering consultant at TrueCADD. He has applied his engineering expertise across several highly complex and big scale projects, consequently managing to flawlessly deliver as per the client requirements.

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