Additive manufacturing (3D printing) will change the way all products are built by allowing mass customization. Imagine yourself designing your dream car and watching it printed right in front of you. Or imagine that you lost your cell phone, no problem; just download a new cell phone online and print it at home.
3D printing is already used to create prototypes, medical implants, and researchers at MIT have used it to print a working grandfather clock. Boeing and Airbus are already using 3D printers to produce airplane replacement parts and may one day be able to print entire aircraft. Eventually 3D printing will allow customers to invent whatever they want and enjoy it without waiting for deliveries.
According to the Economist newspaper, additive manufacturing wastes less material than traditional manufacturing. Products made by 3D printing are also lighter than products made by assembly lines; since assembly line products contain extra parts that help build the device, but serve no purpose after it is created.
If additive manufacturing is successful it will radically change supply chain management. Tangible supply chains will cease to exist. Instead companies will design inputs on computers and then lease the software to the maker of the finished good, who will print it for the consumer. For example Canon might design a webcam, but instead of building and shipping it to Dell computers, it will email its design software to Dell. Dell then takes Canon’s computer model and combines it with programs for other laptop parts (batteries, processors, memory sticks, etc). The final consumer can then customize their laptop on Dell’s website and then print a new laptop for themselves at home.
The only supply chains necessary will be for the transportation of titanium powder, liquid plastic, and other materials inserted into 3D printers. Food, prescription medicines, firearms, and other regulated items might be the only products unchanged by additive manufacturing.
Managers will no longer need to worry about forecasting the right amount of inventory to keep. Companies will provide products only and exactly when their customers demand it. There will be no need for “inventory” or “safety stock.”
“Statistical process control” which was once used to detect defects in products will be replaced by software upgrades. If a consumer has a defective product, they will simply email the manufactory, who then replies with a software update, the consumer will then print a new product and throw away the defective product.
Since everything is printed by the final consumer, “bottlenecks” no longer exist. Low skilled workers will be replaced by engineers, computer programmers, and the product designers.
This change also creates new problems. For example it may be hard to define/enforce the property rights of product designers. People may start “torrenting” or pirating stolen software.
How do you think management will be changed by additive manufacturing? What are benefits to 3D printing and what new problems it might create?