DHL examines 3D printing in latest Trend Report

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DHL has released its latest Trend Report focusing on 3D printing and its impact on business supply chains.

The report found that although the 3D printing market is estimated to grow between US$180bn and US$490bn by 2025, it would not become a substitute for mass-production but more a complementary process for bespoke manufacturing.

For the report, DHL tested a variety of 3D printing hardware and techniques over several years and has identified applications that have potential to redefine manufacturing and supply chain strategies.

Matthias Heutger, senior vice president, customer solutions and innovation, DHL, said, “3D Printing and the Future of Supply Chains recognizes 3D printing as a transformative technology. However, it is not a magic bullet that will render factory mass production and manufacturing obsolete. Its exciting potential lies more in its capability to simplify the production of highly complex and customizable products and spare parts and this could bring logistics and manufacturing closer together than ever before.

“As manufacturers adapt their production processes, new opportunities and challenges to the supply chain will be created. At DHL, we look forward to working with customers and partners to jointly explore new solutions and unlock the potential of 3D printing and integrate it into logistics and future supply chains.”

Redefining supply chain strategies

Also known as additive technology, 3D printing has already been adopted globally by the aviation, engineering, automotive and healthcare industries. Mercedes-Benz Trucks has launched a 3D printed spare parts service, and in healthcare, 3D printing allied to scanners is creating custom-made external and internal items from prosthetics to dental crowns. It is also being used for autonomous production in remote environments – a highly sought-after service by mining companies, space agencies, and the military to make critical spare parts.

A complementary technology

Factors currently limiting more widespread adoption of 3D printing include lack of management knowledge, economic and technological issues. Many printers can use only one material, and costs are still high for industrial-grade 3D printer. As well as facing warranty, liability and intellectual property issues, 3D printing needs to become faster, more agile and more advanced before it can become a core production technology.

Markus Kückelhaus, vice president, innovation and trend research, customer solutions and innovation, DHL, said, “Not all products should, can or will be 3D printed. But encouraged by opportunities for greater customization, less waste, and more localized manufacturing and delivery, companies across many industry verticals are showing increasing interest in using 3D printing.

“A recent survey revealed that 38% of companies anticipate using 3D printing in their serial production within five years but not necessarily to completely replace traditional manufacturing. We believe 3D printing will have the most impact in the medium term on logistics in spare parts and individualized parts manufacturing.”

Greatest impact on spare parts logistics

The report highlights opportunities for companies to team up with logistics providers offering 3D printing. These areas include ‘spare parts on demand’, a model that would cut enterprise storage costs; ‘end-of-runway services’ for fast production of time-sensitive parts; and ‘product postponement services’ to increase customization options and simultaneously reduce lead time to the customer.

Individualized direct part manufacturing and product postponement services, both led by customer demand for individualized products, could see manufacturing and assembly divided into stages with regional or locally located printers involved in the final production. DHL believes that both would require completely new supply chain strategies.

To read the full version of 3D Printing and the Future of Supply Chains, click here.

December 5, 2016

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Helen has worked for UKi Media & Events for nearly a decade. She joined the company as assistant editor on Passenger Terminal World and since progressed to become editor of five publications, covering everything from aviation, logistics and e-commerce to meteorology. She has a love for travel and property and has redeveloped three houses in three years. When she’s not editing magazines, she’s running around after her two boys and their partner in crime, Pete the pug.

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