How To Scale 3D Printing Using Distributed Manufacturing

Vikas Gupta

Think back on manufacturing of years ago, and you may have images of shop floors with workers and machines processing raw products in an environment of drudgery and hard work.

Fast-forward to today: Industry 4.0 and its gamut of technologies—such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and cyber-physical systems—have made manufacturing fascinating. With these technologies starting to become mainstream, it’s an exciting time to re-imagine the manufacturing industry.

The technology

One such transformative technology is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. Currently, 3D printing has found solid applications in the production of spare parts, medical implants, aerospace components, figurines, and ornaments. There is no doubt that 3D printing can cut design costs considerably by reducing time to prototype and product development. It enables companies to manufacture small batches of highly customized parts to address the “lot size of one” and mass customization.

Overall economic impact created by Additive Manufacturing could reach $100 billion to $250 billion by 2025.” – McKinsey Report

The pain point

If 3D printing has the potential to disrupt manufacturing industries and supply chains by enabling in-house/local manufacturing instead of sourcing from abroad, why hasn’t it scaled more quickly? Gartner’s 2017 hype cycle report placed Enterprise 3D Printing at the “Slope of Enlightenment” phase, where it’s been stuck for a few years.

One reason is that there are multiple 3D printing techniques, each with its own use case and raw material consumption mode. If an organization tried to set up all these different types of printers in-house, the capital expenditure could potentially eliminate any expected cost savings. On the other hand, if the organization makes the decision to buy, it must undergo the long process of sourcing, defining technical/functional requirements, identifying and finalizing suppliers, developing components, processing approvals, etc.

The solution

Given this context, how can an organization scale up their manufacturing technique? One solution could be distributed manufacturing, described as one of the ten emerging technologies of 2015 by World Economic Forum. Distributed manufacturing comprises a marketplace where a network of manufacturers offers 3D printing facilities at competitive prices. This manufacturing-as-a-service model removes the burden of capital expenditure from organizations and creates multiple sourcing options, better and cheaper products, and faster deliveries.

Enterprise software providers are also coming up with solutions around distributed manufacturing and their integration with core ERPs. Distributed manufacturing solutions must provide capabilities such as identification, onboarding, and collaboration with manufacturers; secure sharing of product blueprints; finalization of 3D printing technology and materials; quality inspection; and price quotes. Subsequent steps, such as purchase order creation, goods receipt, invoice verification, and payments can be managed through integration with core ERP.

In all such distributed transactions, security must be paramount to protect the intellect property rights of the organization and to ensure that designs are not stolen by 3D printing service providers or others. While Gartner’s prediction that 3D printing will cause global losses of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property by 2018 has not yet proven true, the risk remains and it must be addressed by aggregators and enterprise software providers. This will surely be a key differentiating factor for enterprises selecting a software/platform provider.

Manufacturing networks can revolutionize manufacturing, just as procurement networks revolutionized procurement, and expedite mainstream usage of enterprise 3D printing.

Getting started with distributed manufacturing

Does your organization already have a distributed manufacturing strategy in place? Start a discussion with your team about distributed manufacturing with this white paper.


Vikas Gupta

About Vikas Gupta

Vikas Gupta is a technology enthusiast and has a rich and diversified experience in Consulting and Manufacturing domains. As part of SAP's Digital Transformation Office, he focuses on value proposition topics, thought leadership, benchmarking and business case development for Manufacturing and Supply Chain lines of business.