In 2017, Boeing started using the first FAA-approved 3D-printed parts for its 787 Dreamliner aircraft, and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) successfully fired the first 3D-printed grenade from a 3D-printed grenade launcher. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also approved the use of 3D-printed metal implants for medical procedures.
These three examples illustrate the evolution of additive manufacturing (AM) technology, or 3D printing, as it becomes a commodity that is transforming 21st-century logistics. Done right, 3D printing can transform the operational processes of organizations with logistics supply chains.
In the coming years, it will impact supply chain processes, including key areas such as planning, contracting, sourcing, vendor collaboration, inventories, and manufacturing. This transformation will also impact the ERP systems used by these organizations.
These four areas will be especially impacted:
- Master data and bills of materials (BOM)
- Product lifecycle/Product data management (PLM/PDM)
- Material requirements planning (MRP)
Master data and bills of materials
Some materials are better suited for 3D printing than others. In addition, factors such as lower product quality, failure to develop agreements with vendors who own intellectual property (IP), lack of a business case, or complexity might prevent an organization from printing certain parts.
The material master records must identify which parts can and cannot be printed. Separate material master records for the printed versions might be required as well, along with a BOM that identifies the raw materials and quantities needed to print parts. Other master data includes the IP and licenses to print certain parts.
Product lifecycle management and product data management
3D printing relies on digital data that comes either from an electronic data source or a 3D model. If not externally acquired from the OEM, the data can be gathered internally through a 3D scanner or a manual drawing. To save time and conserve raw materials, it is essential to manage and provide digital source data. A PLM/PDM solution can provide these features and integrate them with the ERP. It would also allow better integration of the ERP with the OEMs if the organization relies on larger amounts of data from OEMs. In this context, collaboration with vendors and partners and the handling of intellectual property must also be considered.
Procurement and material requirements planning
In general, demand can be fulfilled from stock or production, or through procurement. 3D printing enables smaller-scale production that’s independent of production facilities, so the MRP run can consider printing of equipment. Based on the settings in the material master record and the priorities of the requisition or order, the MRP program in the ERP system suggests how to best fill demand.
Other areas to be considered include printer integration (as interfaces are often proprietary), capacity planning, and training. Contracts with IP owners must also identify which parts can be printed, how the IP owner is compensated, if technical data packages are being exchanged, and how printed parts are tracked.
3D printing offers a wide array of direct and indirect benefits to organizations with logistics supply chains and their customers. Any organization can embrace this digital innovation to gain a competitive advantage and avoid falling behind in the market. Additional benefits include shorter lead times, lower costs, decreased downtime of production assets, and better customer service. Most industries are considering using 3D printing, and leading companies have already started the journey.
But 3D printing doesn’t stand on its own; it eventually requires integration with ERP systems. It is important to consider the impact on the ERP systems in parallel to initial proof of concepts.
For more insight on this topic and how SAP solutions support 3D printing, see: