With 3D production, machines can switch between different parts as fast as operators can load a new 3D design file and feed in the raw materials, giving manufacturers unprecedented levels of agility and flexibility.
Companies don’t need capital to invest in a factory to start manufacturing. Instead, startups can contract with manufacturer-oriented 3D-printing service bureaus, such as Stratasys’s RedEye and Kraftwurx, to get the product flowing.
Freed from traditional economies-of-scale constraints, manufacturing and assembly can move physically nearer to the customer and become more responsive to individual customer needs while reducing logistics costs and, potentially, carbon footprints.
3D printing lets designers build complex structures as a single unit that would have required separate parts using conventional manufacturing processes.
For some products, 3D will make it easier and cheaper to manufacture locally instead of in low-cost countries thousands of miles away. For a few industries, manufacturing will move back to where it was outsourced from in the first place, and the supply chain will get a lot shorter. —Uwe Kylau, development expert, SAP SE
Increasingly, warehoused parts will be replaced by virtual inventories and design files that the manufacturer ships electronically to a local manufacturing depot, service bureau, or even a 3D printer in the customer’s home or business.