Making the Virtual a Reality with Additive Manufacturing


Lee-Bath Nelson  

Gear Parts Additively Manufactured by Graphite

A couple of weeks ago we published a column written by LEO Lane co-founder and VP Business examining the efficiency-enhancing benefits of AM adoption from the perspective of the supply chain manager. Here is the 2nd installment in the series. The series was first published by online magazine Supply and Demand Chain Executive, you can find the original article here.

The efficiency-enhancing benefits of 3D printing/additive manufacturing (AM) can deliver many quantifiable advantages for supply chain managers. In a previous column, I talked about its ability to simplify the supply chain via the production of complex parts. Another key aspect of AM that can deliver even more significant efficiencies within supply chains, is its ability to enable the use of virtual/digital inventories. This is quite literally the ability to access and pull parts from a digital (rather than physical) inventory and then quickly and effortlessly 3D print them anywhere at any time in the exact quantity desired. The digital inventory can be stored on a local disk, in a central disk, or even in the cloud.

This has several positive implications, the first of which is the huge cost saving that arises from eradicating the need for large physical inventories. Let’s face it, physical inventory is the weak spot in any supply chain; it has no benefits beyond the availability of parts and is a burden for companies that pay enormous amounts of money to maintain it. Similarly, from a logistics perspective using AM with virtual inventories cuts out the headache and costs of balancing excess and shortages in physical inventory at individual locations. Indeed, the logistical benefits are even greater as virtual inventories simplify and streamline the entire distribution network at the geographic level. Think about it – there’s no longer any physical inventory, which means the traditional central-to-region-to-local distribution model is eradicated, as is the need to do projections… which, of course, have to be exact, lest the company suffers from more delays and more costs. In contrast, working digitally takes no time at all and is so much cheaper (AMFG’s part catalog).

AMFG Part Catalog

As this cost of physical inventory is eliminated, companies can always keep low volume parts in inventory, making missing parts a thing of the past. This also means that, should a problem with a part arise, supply chain managers can react quickly – without having to dispose of older inferior parts (because they don’t exist in the first place).

Better yet is the opportunity via AM to recreate obsolete or out-of-production parts, thereby overcoming an inherent problem for both manufacturers and their customers. Additionally, it can lead to higher satisfaction (from the latter) and additional revenues (for the former) that were not previously economical. These benefits also apply for each party when you consider the advantage delivered by AM insofar as the production and delivery of emergency spare parts (below 3D printed (Front) and original seat back table – Angel Trains, ESG Rail and Stratasys).

Obsolete Train Part - 3D Printed -Front - and Original Seat Back Table - Angel Trains, ESG Rail and Stratasys

Another aspect to consider is how the use of a virtual inventory pushes the manufacturing step further down the chain. That said, this invariably means that it’s the supply chain that needs to ensure quality is maintained, both in terms of consistency between parts, and traditional post-manufacturing quality assurance. This is especially important when taking advantage of the on-demand nature of AM, which I will cover in my next column. For now, as I’ve hopefully conveyed, the use of virtual inventories with AM offers plenty of opportunities when it comes to optimizing efficiencies within supply chain management (below an additively manufactured spare part for Porsche 911 Speedster and up top gear parts additively manufactured by Graphite).

Spare Part Porsche 911 Speedster 3D Printing

Each part and person in the AM ecosystem has its own unique perspective, what’s yours? Tell us about it in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>