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Supply Chain Management and the Role of 3D Printing Digital Inventories

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As the additive manufacturing (AM) industry grows beyond its humble roots as a rapid prototyping technology, it has been adopted by some of the world’s leading companies to produce not only jigs and fixtures, but even end parts—in some cases to the tune of millions of units per year. Therefore, at this point in its evolution, the theme of the sector isn’t so much about hurdles to adoption or developing the proper business cases. Those are details that have been rehashed endlessly in the prior era of AM’s development. Instead, we should be looking at where 3D printing is going next.

Since COVID-19 revealed the myriad issues associated with globalized logistics networks, the theme for 3D printing has become its use as a sort of supply chain insurance for manufacturers. Not only can AM act as a stopgap in emergency scenarios (see GM’s crisis adoption of 3D printing for an SUV rollout), but production of goods closest to their point of use and on demand could permanently reduce dependance on long, complex, and distant supply chains.

In turn, the next step for AM isn’t how to improve cost and efficiency so that major corporations can use it at scale. That’s already happening. The next step is how it will be integrated into existing logistics networks. To get a better sense of what that may look like, we’ll dive into the larger supply chain management (SCM) companies and the AM providers best suited to immediately fit into their operations. PRO logo

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