In class, we have already discussed the vast implications COVID-19 had (and still has) on worldwide supply chains.
I wondered if there are technologies that can help companies be better prepared for future supply chain outages.
While doing research, one of the most exciting technologies I discovered was 3D printing. To make this blog post more practical, I decided to use the global automotive supply chain as an example of 3D printing’s disruptive potential.
What is 3D printing?
There must be made a general distinction between subtractive and additive manufacturing.
Subtractive manufacturing removes material step-by-step to create objects. It starts with solid blocks of material and shapes by cutting, boring, drilling, and grinding. Typical examples are, e.g., CNC machining and laser cutting.
Additive manufacturing, on the other hand, creates a 3D objective using a digital file. Laying down successive layers of material until an object is created enables the production of complex shapes using less material than traditional methods.
3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing that creates an object by adding layers to a printing surface using various materials. Now, most 3D printers are slow and small. However, the technology gets improved on an ongoing basis and is used in every industry you can think of, e.g., automotive, aviation, construction, healthcare, and even food.
How does the automotive industry and its supply chain look like?
It is complicated! This sums up all you need to know about the global automotive supply chain.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons for this complexity is the coexistence of many car parts produced by many suppliers.
The average car consists of around 20,000 parts.
Various suppliers produce and assemble those parts, making it hard to manage and easily exposed to external influences such as COVID-19.
Technologies such as 3D printing might reduce complexity and transform the industry in a variety of ways.
What are the applications and implications of 3D printing in the automotive industry?
3D printing already has a few core fields of application. Premanufacturing samples and tools facilitate prototyping and validating. Additionally, 3D printing helps to demonstrate designs and concepts while enabling the customization of certain parts.
In the future, 3D printers will most likely be able to print entire chassis, mass-print most parts of automobiles, and reduce their overall complexity.
Because of its various fields of application, the technology can provide impactful advantages. By reducing complexity and increasing efficiency (mainly in R&D), companies in the automotive industry can reduce their costs. Furthermore, 3D Printing allows faster design and production cycles while improving IP protection because of reduced outsourcing, thereby increasing possibilities for innovation. Lastly, it increases the general flexibility to handle global disruptions.
How does 3D printing disrupt the automotive industry and its supply chains?
3D printing enables the centralization of a decentralized industry. Car manufacturers gain bargaining power because of their higher independence, whereas suppliers are losing influence. The technology allows muss less transportation between suppliers, which optimizes timing for assembly, thereby rationalizing inventory and logistics through ‘on-demand production. Replacing an expensive and time-intensive CNC-production allows smaller companies to be more flexible and competitive because of lower costs, reducing entry barriers to the automotive industry.
In my opinion, 3D printing is an excellent example of how digital transformation enables other technologies to emerge that can disrupt whole industries.
Feel free to comment on other technologies which development and impact accelerated because of digital transformation!