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According to authors John Manners-Bell and Ken Lyon 3D Printing, or additive manufacturing, has the potential to become the biggest single disruptive phenomenon to impact global industry since assembly lines were introduced in early twentieth century America.
A new report by by John Manners-Bell of Transport Intelligence and Ken Lyon of Virtual-Partners Ltd., points to the growing role 3D printing is having on the global economy and outlines the potential for the technology to disrupt the logistics industry in particular.

Entire supply chains and even the concept of "logistics" may be radically changed or even effectively ended when all someone has to do is hit a "print" button and an object is produced before their very eyes. Moreover, the speed at which these technologies are being developed and implemented is increasing exponentially.

The report examines how 3D printing or, 'additive manufacturing' will revolutionize production techniques, which will threaten the global transportation and logistics industry, potentially reversing the march of globalization that has been the norm for the past few decades. This report is enlightening because it focuses on how 3D printing will impact the massive industry that is built around manufacturing –the moving of raw materials, parts and finished products around the world.

The authors report that the implications of this new manufacturing technology for the logistics industry could be massive: • Potentially a proportion of goods which were previously produced in China or other Asia markets could be ‘near-sourced’ to North America and Europe. This would reduce shipping and air cargo volumes. • The ‘mass customisation’ of products would mean that inventory levels fall, as goods are made to order. This would have the effect of reducing warehousing requirements. • There would be fewer opportunities for logistics suppliers to be involved in companies’ upstream supply chains, as manufacturing processes are increasingly re-bundled within a single facility. Tiers of component suppliers are done away with, as is the need for supplier villages, line side supply etc. • Downstream logistics would also be affected. Build-to-order production strategies could fundamentally impact the manufacturer-wholesaler-retailer relationship. In the future the shopping experience could also be vastly different. In some sectors, retailers will either cease to exist or become ‘shop windows’ for manufacturers, keeping no stock of their own. Orders are fulfilled directly by the manufacturer, and delivered to the home of the consumer. • A major new sector of the logistics industry would emerge dealing with the storage and movement of the raw materials which ‘feed’ the 3D Printers. As 3D Printers become more affordable to the general public, the home delivery market of these materials would increase. • The Service Parts Logistics sector would be one of the first to be affected. At present billions are spent on holding stock to supply products as diverse as cars to x-ray machines. In some cases huge amount of redundancy is built into supply chains to enable parts to be dispatched in a very short timescale to get machines up and running again as fast as possible. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the benefits for a service parts engineer of being able to download a part design from an online library, 3D Print it and then fit it within a very short time window. This would make global and national parts warehouses as well as forward stock locations unnecessary to fulfilling customer needs.
Manners-Bell and Lyon write that it is difficult to see that industry will undergo complete transformation for many years – probably decades – to come. What could happen, though, is that that some sectors are penetrated by the technology at a much earlier stage, such as the manufacture of spare parts.

In this case, the most enlightened logistics companies could even become early adopters of the technologies – investing in the 3D Printers and providing facilities for designers and engineers – rather than kicking against the progress. This would also provide a way of leveraging their capital and their own technological capabilities.

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