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How Decentralised Manufacturing Beats Crippled Supply Chains …

Global supply chains lie in shambles. There’s no sugar-coating it — the past decade’s events have crippled the traditional distribution channels for both industrial and consumer goods. In addition to the pandemic, trade disputes, geopolitical instability, and material shortages have …

Ile Kauppila

November 22, 2022

Global supply chains lie in shambles. There’s no sugar-coating it — the past decade’s events have crippled the traditional distribution channels for both industrial and consumer goods.

In addition to the pandemic, trade disputes, geopolitical instability, and material shortages have rattled global manufacturing. But perhaps the worst news is how many manufacturers still haven’t secured their supply chains.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. 3D printing is in a unique position to relieve manufacturers scrambling for parts. The technology’s ability to enable both decentralised and in-house parts production is increasingly becoming manufacturers’ answer to supply chain disruptions.

Read on to find out how decentralised additive manufacturing can unravel tangled supply chains for your business.

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Are Global Supply Chain Disruptions Really That Bad?

You may wonder if global supply chain difficulties aren’t blown out of proportion just a bit. Can the situation be that bad?

The answer to the question is no. It’s even worse.

Just this past year, 75% of companies experienced supply chain disruptions stemming from external causes, found the additive manufacturing service Hubs in its most recent Supply Chain Resilience Report. Not only that, 56% of companies encountered more problems than in the previous year.

The automotive industry is potentially the best (or worst) example of these supply chain issues. Due to disruptions in automotive supply chains, the sector has struggled with low material availability — particularly computer chips — for several years.

And material shortages are the largest issue. Although the pandemic has been the most disruptive incident in the past decade, dysfunctional material supply chains are an ever-increasing spanner in manufacturers’ works.

Something must be done — 95% of manufacturers agree. But 37% of manufacturers haven’t taken any steps to avoid future supply chain disruptions.

Manufacturers must act quickly. What they need to do is build supply chain resilience.

What is Supply Chain Resilience?

Simply put, supply chain resilience refers to a manufacturer’s ability to mitigate and work around supply chain issues. A business with resilient supply chains has a clear strategy for sourcing parts or materials outside of its main channel.

For example, imagine a political crisis preventing Machine Makers Ltd from acquiring its components through its usual delivery route. If this imaginary company’s supply chain is resilient, it can order the parts it needs from elsewhere. It may suffer a financial setback but can still keep its operations running.

To build resilient supply chains, manufacturers need flexibility, diversification of their supplier networks, and close monitoring of supply chains and suppliers. They can then promptly react to any disruptions in their supply chain, either by diverting deliveries or contacting another supplier.

Decentralised Manufacturing Can Untangle Supply Chains

Decentralised manufacturing can be an answer to the supply chain woes of many manufacturers, goods producers, and other businesses. This manufacturing principle stands in contrast to traditional manufacturing supply chains.

In the traditional, or centralised, model, one or two factories produce the parts and components your business needs. These factories can be half the world away, rendering you vulnerable to disruption either at the plant itself or somewhere along the delivery route.

Decentralised manufacturing, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on a single source for parts. Instead, you work with multiple local (or as local as possible) facilities or suppliers to order parts based on your current needs vis-a-vis cost and delivery time. Taken to its logical extreme, a totally decentralized manufacturing model would have you produce every part in-house.

3D printers are in an excellent position to enable decentralised manufacturing. They are a powerful manufacturing method that allows you to produce parts at your facility — without the need for the massive investments traditional manufacturing equipment needs.

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5 Ways Decentralised Additive Manufacturing Helps Your Supply Chains

Decentralised manufacturing through 3D printing can help you avoid supply chain difficulties through a combination of multiple factors. Together, the below effects can relieve supply chain pressure for your business — or even decouple it completely from global supply chains.

1. Bring Manufacturing Close to Home

3D printing enables you to produce parts locally — even in-house. With additive manufacturing, you can shorten your supply chains from thousand of miles to potentially a couple of metres.

Naturally, the shorter your supply chains are, the less chance there is for disruption. With your engineering-grade 3D printers, you can almost completely eliminate the chance of supply chain issues since your parts come from your facility.

2. Increase Flexibility and Diversify Your Supplier Network

When you switch from traditional manufacturing and supply chains to 3D printing, you’ll increase your business’ flexibility. You’re now in full control of your parts production and won’t have to struggle with any issues or incidents at the supplier’s end.

But what if your own 3D printers break? You still won’t have to worry. You can get your parts by ordering them from a local professional 3D printing service.

As 3D-printable parts and components exist only as digital CAD files before printing, you can quickly send them to a 3D printing bureau that offers the same technologies and materials you use. You’ll get the exact same part quality from a company close to you and avoid shutdowns while you repair your machines.

3. Cut Lead Times

3D printing allows you to cut lead times, whether you need components or manufacture products for your clients. The technology achieves this in two ways.

First, thanks to decentralised manufacturing, you can produce parts as close to your business as possible. As the parts won’t have to travel far through a lengthy supply chain, you can get them quickly. Conversely, if you have CAD files of your products, you can send them to a reliable 3D printing bureau close to your customer.

Additionally, 3D printers can produce parts much faster than traditional manufacturing methods. With additive manufacturing, you’ll count production time in hours instead of days or weeks.

4. Produce Parts on Demand

Traditional manufacturing and supply chains often require you to order large volumes of parts for them to be economical. If your heaping pile of parts gets stuck along the supply chain, you may run out of them and have no way to get more. As a result, you’ll face downtime.

Decentralised manufacturing through 3D printers allows you to produce parts when you need them, where you need them. Thanks to the speed of 3D printing technologies, you can have end-use-ready components in your hands within hours.

3D printing helps you by making part production almost instant. As a bonus, you’ll realise more savings as you don’t need to maintain extensive inventories of spare components that can sit on shelves for years.

5. Explore New Materials and Part Geometries

Just because you’ve always produced your parts from a certain material doesn’t mean it’s your best option. 3D printing enables you to manufacture parts from new materials you may have never thought about.

For example, aerospace manufacturers can replace metal components with lighter, stronger, and more chemically-resistant thermoplastic components. Meanwhile, SLS 3D printers — like Formlabs Fuse 1 — can produce low-volume plastic parts with performance and detail comparable to moulded plastic at a fraction of the price.

Additionally, 3D printing can create geometries impossible for traditional manufacturing, like hollow or interlocking structures and overhangs. Exploring new material options doesn’t just protect you from material shortages — it just might make your parts better.

Want to learn more about how decentralised manufacturing and 3D printing can benefit your business? The AM experts at Solid Print3D are happy to help you! Call us at 01926 333 777 or email us at info@solidprint3d.co.uk.

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