What the Cloud Has Done to Enterprise IT, 3D Printing Will Do to Manufacturing and Supply Chain [Video]

Ian McCullough

Manufacturing and Supply Chain Managers: you didn’t really think that the storm was going to be limited to the Information Technology department, did you?

Making the software and databases that you depend on to make your plants and fulfillment more efficient has been a nice start, but you have been aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg…right?

You’re next

Outsourcing manufacturing to third parties eliminated the need for businesses to run their own factories. The next step is outsourcing manufacturing directly to customers. Factories will be a thing of the past. So will warehouses and inventory. When someone needs a physical object, the notion of “just in time” manufacturing will take on a whole new meaning; they’ll download a design and just make it themselves.

A Popular Mechanics profile of the Fab@Home open source 3D printing project.

Affordable 3D printing is already putting small-scale factories directly into people’s offices and homes. Once everyone has a multipurpose factory in their living room, there’ll be a lot less need for fancy facilities. For a comparison, I think we’re at “personal computing circa 1980″ and I would contend that personal computing didn’t become “mainstream” until circa 1995.  3D printing is probably a minimum of 10-15 years from being really mainstream.

Think, however, about a few of the ways that personal computers have done to the world economy since 1980:

  • They wiped out the need for millions of jobs in clerical functions like administration, filing, accounting, and archiving.
  • They made mathematical modeling way faster. That made it easier to predict things and consequently waste much less.
  • When paired with a modem initially and then later a direct Internet connection, they made written communications instantaneous.

Consider now what cloud computing has done since the turn of the millennium:

  • It has eliminated the need for in-house rack servers.
  • With no capital required for buying hardware, it has greatly reduced barriers-to-entry for Internet-based businesses.

What will 3D printing do in the years to come?

  • It will enable personalization and customization to a previously unimaginable degree. People are already making a stunningly diverse range of things – from cake toppers to human cartilage.
  • It will wipe out the need for millions of logistics and transportation jobs. The only things that will need planes, trains, ships, and trucks will be material gels (the “inks”) and the 3D printers themselves.
  • The current state of the art focuses on solid objects. It will take some time before we get to something resembling Diamond Age-style finished good manufacturing, but it won’t be all that long. Robotic assembly already happens in factories around the world; as technology advances the 3D print head will generate a range of components and small robotic arms and claws built directly into the device will handle multi-part, multi-stage assembly. And it will happen on your coffee table.
  • In the near term, it will make millions of subcomponent manufacturing jobs unnecessary. There are tons of little plastic and metal parts that people take for granted in finished consumer or industrial goods. The ability for 1st party/1st tier manufacturers to bring more of their supply chains in-house at low cost will be huge. Once it becomes faster, 3D printing will put lots of second and third-tier suppliers out of business.
  • Designers will be able to distribute their products directly to consumers for in-home manufacture. As a matter of fact… they already can.  For those who aren’t interested in the full-blown “do it yourself to the point where you build your own 3D printer” ethos of a project like Fab@Home, a clear leader in this emerging market is MakerBot, which has brought the cost of entry-level consumer hardware down to $1749.



  • Just like home inkjets need words and pictures, 3D printers need content too. An important part of MakerBot’s efforts is Thingiverse, an online community where people publish and share the files for their 3D-printable objects. Having paper printers in lots of homes didn’t mean that everyone needed to become a graphic designer; likewise, having ubiquitous 3D printing will not mean that everyone needs to become an industrial designer. Given the way that people buy music these days, it’s easy enough to see us coming full circle and downloading a file from an online store with the instructions to make a vinyl record.
  • It isn’t even necessary for everyone to personally own a 3D printer. Items are now being printed at mall kiosks, retail shops, and facilities like TechShop. Rather than go to a supply store, professional craftspeople will print components for projects as they need them. The key is that these devices dramatically cut the number of intermediate steps, including changes to form and to location, between raw material and ready-to-use. Here’s an example of that taken to an extreme: there’s a team that has made a solar-powered 3D printer that can create glass objects using only sand and sunlight.

Information infrastructure is becoming more consolidated and accessible in the cloud. Manufacturing infrastructure is becoming more distributed and democratized with technologies like 3D printing. Looking towards a time when anyone in the world will be able to make anything that they want – be it software or hardware – you have to wonder just one thing: what need will your business be meeting?

Ian McCullough is an independent project management and operations consultant for consumer-facing businesses. He has successfully deployed cloud-based solutions at the companies he works with, so he is an active practitioner and builder – not just some random theorist. For more information, you can visit his LinkedIn profile.


Digital Breakthrough: How 3D Printing Will Blow Your Mind

Maria Estrada

3D printing is shaking up how people engage in daily tasks at work, at school, and even at home. Recognizing the powerful potential of this innovative technology, many businesses are also beginning to leverage it for commercial use.

The fashion industry, for example, is using 3D printing to launch clothing collections based on the latest trends. The automotive industry is also tapping the technology to solve technical challenges. And healthcare organizations are using it to make lifesaving breakthroughs.

As 3D printing technology matures, it will be used in countless ways yet to be imagined. Here are some examples of how 3D printing is affecting manufacturing today.

1. Product design and development

Because 3D printing can minimize design constraints, developers can create products that are built to last without needing to first work through the problems of a physical prototype. Companies will be able to produce products quickly and easily.

Steve Swaddle, technology manager at Black & Decker, says, “It is the ability to design something in the morning and have a physical representation of the concept in your hand in the afternoon that is a priceless step forward in product design.”

2. Customization for a segment of one

Businesses can use 3D printing to easily customize products, such as a new concept of business cards, according to individual customer preferences. With product design limited only by the human imagination, many industries will be poised to undergo dramatic transformation.

However, such a shift also brings cost implications. Products will likely cost more, as 3D printers are expensive—many are priced between $10,000 and $20,0000, with some specialized models up to $50,000 or more. Over time, these prices will naturally decrease, but for now, consumers will pay a price for customization.

Another concern is copyright issues. Users of 3D printers can easily copy ideas based on copyright-protected product designs, and manufacturers and designers may call the ethical use of 3D printing into question as property right and infringements occur.

Major digital breakthroughs and innovations rarely go unnoticed, and 3D printing is just one example. However, we must use them to solve problems rather than create new ones.

For more on the potential of 3D printing, see Why 3D Printed Food Just Transformed Your Supply Chain.


Maria Estrada

About Maria Estrada

Maria Estrada is the business associate of PrintMeister, an online company that offers high-quality printing services like brochures and print business card. She is a tech savvy and loves to share her knowledge through blog writing. Maria lives in Australia with her family and two lovely cats.

The Intelligent Supply Chain: A Use Case For Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur

The term artificial intelligence (AI) invokes images of robot uprisings, space missions to galaxies far, far away, and lab-created clones that make humans immortal. For years, thought-provoking talks by professors have entertained the notion of whether AI is—or ever will be—self-aware. The more adventurous among us may be drawn toward theosophical discussions on creationism or debates about the realities and influences of the quantum world.

Current thinking about AI may border on science vision (if not science fiction or philosophy)—perhaps for a good reason. Technologies once imagined only on the movie screen now bring convenience and value to our daily lives. Some examples include gestural interfaces, machine-aided purchases, facial recognition, autonomous cars, miniature drones, ubiquitous advertising, and electronic surveillance. Machines are now making predictions on trading stocks, customer purchases, traffic flows, and crime—much as we saw in the 2002 movie “Minority Report.”

From movie screen to real-world applications

Technology leaders have placed big bets on technologies such as brain-computer interfaces, AI in medicine, and deep learning and machine learning tools. AI is expected to lead the new economy, which is becoming known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the Second Machine Age. AI is at the forefront of business innovation, along with emerging technologies such as robotics, the Internet of Things3D printingquantum computing and nanotechnology.

Companies are still deciding how AI can be designed to fit into their processes. However, burning questions persist around whether self-learning machines will replace or assist humans in white-collar and blue-collar jobs:

  • Can machines learn common sense and empathy?
  • Who owns the insights that are generated by AI technology, and who owns the responsibility for an erroneous decision made by a machine?
  • Can you teach a machine how to make a decision when dealing with an ethical dilemma?

While these concerns still require much deliberation, most industries understand that the application of AI in businesses brings immense potential. Currently, the top 10 use cases for the technology are data security, personal privacy, financial trading, healthcare, marketing personalization, fraud detection, recommendations, online search, natural language processing (NLP), and smart cars.

Considering how quickly these new technologies are adopted and adapted to new use cases, it is only a matter of time before we start seeing AI capabilities become a part of the fabric of normal business processes. While routine transactions have already been automated, many companies that are higher on the learning curve use predictive and prescriptive analytics to guide their operations.

In the supply chain management function, people talk about degrees of autonomy in the planning process. From use of historical data for planning, it goes through use of automation that can be overridden and ends at nonoptional automation, where planners cannot review the recommendations of the algorithms. The algorithmic supply chain requires organizational maturity and cultural readiness to embed and regularly rely on systems. The concept of an intelligent supply chain goes a step further by incorporating self-learning capabilities of the machine to make better supply-chain decisions.

An opportunity to “learn” and improve–without disruption

Common wisdom tells us that organisations compete on the strength of their supply chain ecosystems. Future organisations would compete on the strength of intelligence embedded in their systems. Ultimately, the winner will be the supply chain that learns most quickly with greatest precision.

At a fundamental level, machine-learning algorithms are a teaching set of data. The machine then answers a question by adding every possible correct or incorrect answer to the teaching set. The algorithm keeps getting better and smarter over time.

Organisations learn in a similar fashion: Every organisation has its own embedded intelligence, which manifests itself through the behavior of its managers and their response to the environment. Supply-chain managers use it to review and modify machine-generated forecasts, production plans, or procurement plans.

Putting a self-learning loop into the system will allow a machine to analyse, for example, why a manual override was made to its recommendation, and it can then check for it during the next cycle. This capability is helpful with managing transactions such as fixing incorrect settings, changing norms, or addressing evolving market dynamics. Over a period of time, machines would learn how managers prioritize their plans based on emerging business scenarios, not just optimization algorithms.

For more on how advanced technology is transforming traditional business models, see Are You Joining The Machine Learning Revolution?


Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur

About Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur

Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur is Senior Director of Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Head of Logistics and Central Planning at Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. He heads the global logistics, central planning, and central sourcing for the pharmaceutical organization. Winner of the 2015 Top 25 Digitalist Thought Leaders of India award from SAP, Dr. Mathur is an author, coach, and supply chain professional with 23 years of experience and is based in Hyderabad. He is also actively involved in academic activities and is an internal trainer for DRL for negotiation skills and SCM. In 2014, he co-authored the book “Quality Assurance in Pharmaceuticals & Operations Management and Industrial Safety” for Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University, Hyderabad. He is also member of The Departmental Visiting Committee (DVC) for Department of Biotechnology, Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT) Allahabad. Professional recognitions include a citation from World Bank and International Finance Corporation for his contribution to their publication “Doing Business in 2006” and the winner of the Logistics-Week Young Achiever in Supply Chain Award for 2012.

Running Future Cities on Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

Building on the Blockchain Framework

Some experts say these seemingly far-future speculations about the possibilities of combining technologies using blockchain are actually both inevitable and imminent:

Democratizing design and manufacturing by enabling individuals and small businesses to buy, sell, share, and digitally remix products affordably while protecting intellectual property rights.
Decentralizing warehousing and logistics by combining autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and smart contracts to optimize delivery of products and materials, and even to create them on site as needed.
Distributing commerce by mixing virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence into immersive, personalized, on-demand shopping experiences that still protect buyers’ personal and proprietary data.

The City of the Future

Imagine that every agency, building, office, residence, and piece of infrastructure has an entry on a blockchain used as a city’s digital ledger. This “digital twin” could transform the delivery of city services.

For example:

  • Property owners could easily monetize assets by renting rooms, selling solar power back to the grid, and more.
  • Utilities could use customer data and AIs to make energy-saving recommendations, and smart contracts to automatically adjust power usage for greater efficiency.
  • Embedded sensors could sense problems (like a water main break) and alert an AI to send a technician with the right parts, tools, and training.
  • Autonomous vehicles could route themselves to open parking spaces or charging stations, and pay for services safely and automatically.
  • Cities could improve traffic monitoring and routing, saving commuters’ time and fuel while increasing productivity.

Every interaction would be transparent and verifiable, providing more data to analyze for future improvements.

Welcome to the Next Industrial Revolution

When exponential technologies intersect and combine, transformation happens on a massive scale. It’s time to start thinking through outcomes in a disciplined, proactive way to prepare for a future we’re only just beginning to imagine.

Download the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.

Read the full article Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain


About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.


Culture: More Than Just An HR Thing

Shane Green

“Company culture shapes every minute of the workday and every decision that is made.” -Taylor Smith, CEO & Cofounder of Blueboard.

What is culture? I consider it the collective mindset and attitude of your employees about what they do, which manifests itself in how they do things—in other words, their actions and behaviors. These behaviors manifest themselves in their interactions with your company, your customers, and other associates or staff.

This mindset—the one your staff brings to work every day—determines how they will take care of your customers, how much effort they will put into their work, and whether or not they will stay with you long-term.

The mindset and attitude of your employees plays a significant role in how they will perform at work. How someone feels about coming to work affects his or her energy levels and cognitive abilities. The impact of a negative culture is tremendous. It can lead to poor customer interactions, high turnover, underperforming staff, and in turn, reduced profits. Depending on the size of your company, the cost could be thousands, millions, or even billions of dollars.

The research is clear across industries: When your employees are more positive, your company is more productive and profitable. According to a Gallup study from 2012, organizations with engaged employees are:

  • 10% more customer service-oriented
  • 21% more productive
  • 22% more profitable

When you consider the numbers, culture is the most important consideration in business today. And as a result, we should reconsider the position and idea that culture is only the responsibility of your human resources team. Culture must be the focus and responsibility of every executive, owner, and manager in your company.

I often hear owners, executives, and managers argue against investing in their staff. Here are a few of the arguments I hear most frequently:

  • We need to remain focused on our customers and their experience. After all, we are in the customer experience economy. While customers are important, I would argue that we are in the employee experience economy. The talent war is over—talent won, and as a result, if we do not take care of our best and brightest people, another company will. And if you take care of your employees and they feel good about who they work for and what they do, they will naturally take care of your customers anyway.
  • Employees (especially young ones) don’t work hard anyway, so why give them more? The reality is this generation, just like previous generations, have the capacity to work very hard; it’s just that the new generation of workers don’t see the value in investing in a business that doesn’t invest in them.
  • The employees will just leave anyway. To this I say: maybe they will, but if you want any chance to keep your best and brightest, you need to provide them a better employee experience than they received in the past.

If you are focused on profits and productivity (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), then you must be willing to deliver a better employee experience to positively impact the mindset and attitude of your people coming to work. Culture is the most important thing in business today, so every owner, executive, and manager must keep it front and center in everything they do.

Remember what author Stephen Covey said: “The main thing is to keep your main thing the main thing.” Make culture your main thing.

Additional resources

Photo Credit: Françoise Challard Flickr via Compfight cc