Having been privileged to have watched several technologies evolve from early stage clunkiness to significant economic and cultural impact this seems like something to watch. It’s still very early days for 3D printing.
Looking at 3D printing in the context of a supply chain, it seems like it might impact three areas:
- The labor invested in creating parts.
- The quantity of parts that need to be inventoried.
- The need to ship parts from one place to another.
This view does not address some of the other impacts that 3D printing may have such as the ability to create parts that are difficult any other way. With respect to the labor invested in creating parts, 3D printing is an automated manufacturing process like many other automated manufacturing processes (dedicated tooling, robots, etc.). It’s impact is really not very different than those. That being said increased automation reduces the cost of part manufacture by both reducing the quantity of required labor and the skills required. This in turn may have the impact of reducing wages involved in part manufacture due to the reduction in skills required. The demand on this labor pool may go up if the number of locations goes up as mentioned below.