3D Printing & Supply Chains: Adopting a Posture of Preparedness

| Blake Teipel


The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on the fragility of our supply chains. Who would have thought that in a country like America, we would ever see stores stripped bare of essentials like toilet paper and pasta? That our medical professionals and first responders would run out of PPE? Or that domestic factories would come to a screeching halt due to a lack of parts and sub-assemblies produced half a world away?

Manufacturers, especially those making complex products, have worked very hard building relationships with multiple suppliers and have invested many millions of dollars in their physical plants. For most companies, supply chain management has evolved into an intricate dance of finely tuned raw material deliveries triggered by automated ordering systems tied to just-in-time inventory practices and sales activity.

During “normal” times, having a reliable supply chain in place helps companies reduce costs. Buyers can budget, sellers can forecast; the pipeline is full. Having established relationships with trusted supply chain partners can help smooth over the occasional bump in the road, quickly solve a pricing discrepancy or perhaps work around geopolitical issues caused by international trade wars or tariffs. Knowing exactly what, when and how raw materials and components will arrive allows manufacturers to maintain tight production schedules, reduce their carbon footprint and improve customer service. Any misstep along the way can throw the whole ballet out of sync, but can usually be corrected quickly by an overnight delivery.

But these are not normal times. Manufacturers need to find ways to continue to do business as usual when it is clearly not. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how easily global supply chains can snap for indeterminable lengths of time. Resources suddenly become short in supply or not available. Rising costs and price gouging throw ROI equations out the window. Delays in shipment mean idle assembly lines and furloughed workers.

Manufacturers need to have a Plan B to keep their supply chains flowing and factory floors humming in the event of a disruption. 3D printing is an excellent alternative for manufacturers to fill gaps in the supply chain caused by events beyond their control. Rather than wait for a part or tool to repair a machine, print the replacement in-house. Don’t wait for the factory in Wuhan to reopen — additive manufacturing can step in to make quantities of supplies at scale, or at least the mold to make the product to keep the assembly lines moving. 3D printing can cut unnecessary links out of the supply chain, reduce costs, transportation time and bring manufacturing back, well, to the point of manufacturing.

As a proponent of 3D printing, I am admittedly a little biased in my opinions of how products like our Essentium HSE 180 Series can increase a manufacturer’s self-sufficiency in good times or bad. But I do know that companies adopting a posture of preparedness to produce at least some of the parts and products needed to stay in business without relying on global suppliers will be in a stronger position to weather any disruption to their supply chain.

Essentium, Inc. provides industrial 3D printing solutions that are disrupting traditional manufacturing processes by bringing product strength and production speed together, at scale, with an open ecosystem and material set. Essentium manufactures and delivers innovative industrial 3D printers and materials enabling the world’s top manufacturers to bridge the gap between 3D printing and machining to embrace the future of additive manufacturing.


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