Simplify your manufacturing supply chain with 3D printing

August 17, 2017 13:18
A specialist monitoring a 3D printing machine at 3D printing service company Fast Radius. Photo: UPS

With its capability and widespread use, 3D printing has evolved from being a novelty to becoming an integral part of the manufacturing process. Whether you’re developing a prototype, or seeking to create an on-demand, customizable product, it’s time for businesses to consider the technology.

The 3D printing market is projected to grow from US$5.2 billion in 2015 to US$26.5 billion in 2021. Even if 3D printing penetrates only 5 percent of the global manufacturing economy, research by Wohlers Report estimates that it would reach US$640 billion annually.

Globally, 70 percent of businesses are getting hands-on experience with 3D printing. Asia-Pacific accounts for only 27 percent, indicating an ample amount of room for improvement to expand the 3D printing industry in the region.

Greater China as well as both emerging and mature markets in the Asia Pacific region are expected to experience a combination of large 3D printer shipments and high growth rates through 2020.

In Asia, many senior business executives and IT decision-makers in China, Hong Kong and Singapore have plans to deploy two or more disruptive technologies to accelerate digital transformation and boost the competitiveness of their businesses.

A closer investigation by NTT Communications shows that organizations have been slow in adopting technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart robotics and 3D printing, but Asian companies have indicated plans to deploy one or more of these technologies in the next 12 months.

Obviously, Asian businesses are aware of how emerging technologies such as 3D printing can be a game changer for their business. As 3D printing continues to disrupt and redefine the way businesses work, it is important for business owners to understand how they can best leverage this technology for growth.

How to take advantage of the technology

In a fast-paced city such as Hong Kong, efficiency and maintaining operational continuity are crucial and UPS's on-demand 3D printing solution can open up new opportunities for Hong Kong businesses.

When 3D printing is being integrated seamlessly into a company’s supply chain, it revolutionizes the manufacturing landscape by changing the way things are made – in a faster and more cost-effective way.

By integrating 3D printing, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can move away from required “minimum quantity” orders to undertake production with lower capital, while larger multinational enterprises (MNEs) can develop products on as-needed basis, so there is less warehousing of slow-moving inventory.

Most importantly, 3D printing can shift mass manufacturing to customization, reduce time-to-market, and make manufacturing more adaptable and agile.

With on-demand manufacturing enabled by 3D printing, businesses can adopt a distributed supply chain – produce smaller quantities closer to the point of consumption – allowing them to closely match supply with demand.

Companies that have applied 3D printing as a manufacturing optimization tool have realized numerous benefits. For example, a medium-sized automotive engine control company significantly reduced time spent on prototyping from 16 weeks to less than a week with 3D printing.

Similarly, a large consumer electronics company reduced design validation times from one week to one day while significantly improving fit with the new technology.

Time to turn disruption into opportunity

As companies begin to understand the advantage of leveraging 3D printing for producing parts, the manufacturing industry will see a new revolution. Large, industrial machines that are designed specifically to produce a specific part or product will make way for smaller, faster 3D printers that are capable of making many different items at a lower cost and with less time.

Clearly, the market for 3D printing has a huge growth potential and the businesses who adopt its use will continue to see more opportunities to integrate 3D printing as the technology evolves.

This is the prime moment for businesses of all sizes to employ 3D printing and gain an edge over their competitors in the long run.

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Ross McCullough (left), president of UPS Asia Pacific Region, and Rick Smith, co-founder and CEO of Fast Radius, at a 3D printing conference. Photo: UPS

Managing Director of UPS Hong Kong and Macau