The Assembly Line is Obsolete.

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?




5 thoughts on “The Assembly Line is Obsolete.

  1. This is amazing that 3d printing was invented. I think management will change but very little because they still need to have new products and keep up with the technology. Even though other jobs in the production process will be taken out I feel that management will still have to be there. There are many benefits to 3d printing. Consumers will appreciate it because it is a faster process and they do not have to go wait in line at a store. I think one of the problems it will create is throwing away products that need to be recycled properly. 3D printing can be harmful to the environment.

  2. The concept of 3D printing practically everything is really interesting. Since it is a fairly new invention, it is still in the introductory stage and things made through 3D printing are made slowly that can take up to hours/days to make. It would be really nice and fascinating to see how fast these 3D printers can “print” the materials in a decade from now?

  3. This will definitely cut a lot of the manufacturing costs and could even close many factories since the printer is doing all the job. However, some products are made with a lot of different materials; I’m not sure if the printer will be able to hold all of these raw materials, In addition to that I dont know if it is safe. Having a 3D printer is great and it could make our lives easier. Nevertheless, if this machine fell into the wrong hands it could lead to a disaster. As you mentioned before, people will be able to print firearms in their own houses or steal other people’s softwares. I think that this invention is at its early stages and there will be a bright future for it.

  4. This truly is a fascinating concept; it reminds me of “replicators” from sci-fi sagas. The ramifications will clearly be immense-from cutting the supply chain to virtual nonexistence to the elimination of scrap/waste raw materials. However, I think the biggest problem that everyone is missing is what happens to all those tens of millions of jobs that are in the manufacturing plant or along the supply chain elsewhere? Furthermore, if you can make everything at home, what’s the point of leaving home? People wont need to go to the store anymore and it may change the dynamic of society if 3-D printing becomes commonplace.

  5. I’m sure companies will welcome such technology as material, overhead, and labor cost all decrease but would society accept it for all the jobs that will disappear? Our manufacturing is already dying and such technology will kill it. Yes the consumer will benefit but the American worker will be without a job.

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