We constantly hear of new developments in 3D printing (also known as “additive manufacturing”). The printers use a computer-aided design to build up layers of material that create a 3-dimensional final product.
From clothing to housing to prosthetics, the limitations of 3D printing continue to shrink.
The U.S. Military is already manufacturing replacement parts with 3D printing, and NASA is running tests for use in zero gravity. On the other side of the spectrum, the cost of 3D desktop printers has dropped significantly in recent years, making it more widely available to individual consumers who have the ambition to design their own goods.
Considering how quickly 3D print technology has advanced thus far, it’s plausible to assume that more industries will continue investing in additive manufacturing.
On a macro level, this is expected to change logistics globally.
Customization is important for today’s consumers. 3D printing allows customer requests to be accommodated during production in a “made to order” fashion. Because of this, manufacturers will fall away from keeping large quantities of product in stock. However, the degree to which they can reduce warehouse space will depend on the speed of 3D printing in the future.
More Last Mile Shipping
Within the next 20 years, experts predict that 3D print centers will start appearing near sales markets. It will still be faster and more cost-effective to mass-produce certain goods, but as mass production overseas declines, it will mean an increase in last mile shipping.
Although 3D printing will not replace every good and material that needs to be shipped between countries, the shift in shipping trends will likely affect the outlook for certain roles. For example, customs authorities won’t be needed where there are no products physically crossing the border.
For the commerce that is digitized and no longer passes through border controls, it will be vital that certain security measures are taken to ensure goods are safe and appropriate for the market.
A Greener Industry
Anyone trying to be eco-friendly will also love that 3D printing is making the world a bit greener. In addition to less material consumption in production and less energy needed to run warehouses, 3D printing will also reduce CO2 emissions from transportation. Aerospace parts manufactured via 3D printing are 70% lighter than conventionally manufactured parts, which will lower fuel consumption. The trend toward local production will also minimize the need for long-distance shipping.
As with any new technology, there are some kinks that will need to be worked out, especially involving liability, security and licensing for intellectual property.
All said, 3D printing provides logistics companies with the opportunity to expand their services. As the technology continues to advance, I’m excited to see how the logistics industry evolves.