3D printing is different from traditional manufacturing. Manufacturing has typically been a reductive process in which the object is made by removing material. 3D printing is just the opposite. With 3D printing, the manufacturer will utilize a digital design file to print and add layers upon layers of material to create the object. This additive manufacturing process can create extremely durable, yet lightweight objects.

What are the Benefits of 3D Printing?

Currently 3D printing is mainly used to create prototypes. The manufacturing process is quicker and cheaper for one-off productions. Tooling for one object is just as inexpensive as tooling for mass production where companies see the benefits of economies of scale.

By adding material instead of removing material, there is less waste. This is both better for the environment and helps keep costs down.

And, because printing is so quick compared to reductive manufacturing, it is easy to print for the designer/customer/engineer to review, make changes and then print with the new revisions.

What Does 3D Printing Mean for the Globalization Industry?

While 3D printing isn’t currently ready for mass production, there will likely come a time in the near future that it is. Industries are investing heavily in this market and Stasta.com says that “In 2013, patterns for prototype tooling accounted for about 11 percent of global spending on additive manufacturing systems. The global market for 3D printing and services is expected to grow to approximately 16 billion U.S. dollars by 2018”.

3D printing is capable of printing whole products, without the need for the assembly of parts. This could significantly reduce costs in many areas of the manufacturing process. Labor costs would go down, but also handling, distribution, storage and trade costs.

These cost savings will allow companies to manufacture much closer to home vs. outsourcing to lower wage countries. And, potentially further down the line, consumers may even be able to print at home as the cost of 3D printers goes down.

How Will 3D Printing Change the Logistics Industry?

Both air shipping and ground shipping volumes could go down. If fewer products are made overseas, then air cargo volume will be reduced. Ground shipping will likely reduce as shipping of parts is nearly eliminated.

Because the time to print is so much quicker than traditional manufacturing, storefronts will likely carry significantly lower inventory. This may reduce the amount of warehousing and shipping to the retailer, but may increase direct shipments to the consumer.

As mentioned above, when the cost of 3D printing is reduced enough for consumers to purchase their own, many items may simply be printed at home and not require the shipment of the item at all. There would be an increase, however, in the shipping of the raw printing material and even the printer itself for home usage.

3D printing is still in its early stages, but is being touted as the next industrial revolution. It has the ability to become a game changer for almost every industry.

What are your thoughts on how 3D printing will affect the logistics industry?