The very best of supply chains can experience weak links; And those weak links can result in lost productivity, higher costs and delayed deliveries. None of which are going to maintain your business’ reputation as an industry leader – or keep your customers happy.
So, what are the options to consider when building your manufacturing supply chain that can help maintain high standards of service and delivery to your customers?

This article seeks to explain how many supply-chain headaches can be alleviated by utilising additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing.

What is Additive Manufacturing?

First things first.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of additive manufacturing (AM), even if you haven’t yet experienced it first-hand in your manufacturing process.
Additive manufacturing has come a long way from its prototype origins to become a commercially viable alternative to traditional production. It harnesses the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layers of material, and the process has been refined and developed over the last 30 years.
The sustainability credentials and potential of this manufacturing process have attracted the UK government’s attention, hence their promotion of adoption of this technology. The marketplace is growing at a rapid pace, with predictions of an overall value of £69 billion by 2025.
So, for forward-thinking companies, now is the ideal time to get ahead of the curve.
And, for many, the benefits AM offers lie not only in its ability to create new products quickly and efficiently but in that it dramatically enhances supply chain capabilities by supplying innovative approaches.
So, let’s take a look at some of those advantages to supply chains.

What Are the Benefits?

Firstly, to demonstrate how AM plays a substantial role in improving supply chains, I’d like to illustrate the advantages with the following two scenarios – both of which have played out in my own manufacturing business.
Firstly, an industrial product manufacturer had a customer who needed a low-demand service part immediately and was unable to wait for shipping from a central store due to time constraints. Additionally, the customer could not accept traditional fabrication due to the high cost of manufacturing one part. The solution: print a new component on the spot using our AM 3D printer.

The second scenario involves a power plant in Ireland. The plant urgently required a filter to quickly stop the £1 million an hour in lost revenue for the duration of the downtime. A filter was made from the customer’s existing design using additive manufacturing and was taken by helicopter to the plant in record time: an occasion where time most definitely was money.
Time and cost, although both critical, are not the only advantages. Additive manufacturing technologies offer businesses better value and a competitive advantage in several ways, including:

Leaner manufacturing process
Traditional multi-part components can be manufactured as a single part, thus decreasing assembly costs and refining the supply chain. AM also allows for an increase in part complexity so that an improved function can be incorporated, compared to that offered by conventional parts.

Design freedom
AM offers design innovation, allowing creative freedom without the constraints of time and money so that new ideas can flourish. A move away from conventional static design also enables engineers to produce multiple design options in a cost-effective process.

Flexibility and agility
AM can reduce production lead time dramatically. It also alleviates the requirement to spend time researching to justify tooling investments or waiting for tooling to be produced. So, instead of taking months to get to market, it can take a matter of days – often a critical component in reacting quickly to demand and securing repeat orders.

Waste reduction
AM works by adding material layer by layer, so that only what is required gets used and there is no waste. Consequently, it can reduce material costs and waste by as much as 90 per cent.
Many AM items are also being used to replace traditional throw-away parts, further adding to its green credentials.
• Bespoke service
AM provides the opportunity to provide a bespoke service, with customised designs for clients.
AM is widely used across many sectors including oil and gas, food and beverage, pharmaceutical and the automotive industries, and it can be utilised to produce items tailored to specific client needs, and in short, production runs.

There can be no doubt that AM has many benefits to offer in harnessing an effective and robust supply chain.

From enabling a quick response and allowing design innovation to maintaining high standards and providing a low-waste, cost-effective solution – AM can alleviate many of the challenges faced by traditional supply chains and keep your business ahead of the competition.