What Effect Will 3D Printing Have on Logistics and SCM?

The worldwide market for 3D printing grew at a compound annual growth rate of 35.2% to $4.1 billion (USD) in 2014, according to Wohlers Report 2015. The industry expanded by more than $1 billion with 49 manufacturers producing and selling industrial-grade 3D machines.

If 3D printing is going to have a major impact on how we make things, it will definitely have an impact on how and when we receive them. As one of the largest purveyors of Logistics and Supply Chain Management (SCM) services in the world, DB Schenker is looking closely at the impact 3D printing and other leading technologies will have on how we service our customers.

Getting clarity on future trends is why DB Schenker set up the Enterprise Lab for Logistics and Digitization at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Germany. The Lab combines Fraunhofer IML’s research and development with DB Schenker’s forward-looking global approach to find and develop innovative logistics solutions and process innovations.

As part of the project, access has been granted to Fraunhofer IML’s Technology On Demand Laboratory and its connected workshops. This allows DB Schenker to develop prototypes more quickly and test them in working conditions.

“With this unique partnership, one of the things we want to achieve is the accelerated digitization of logistics processes,” says Dr. Hansjörg Rodi, Chairman of the Management Board of Schenker Deutschland AG.

With a permanent staff of scientists, lab work will focus on 3D printing, the Internet of Things and Services, Industry 4.0, Big Data, Cloud computing and the transition from process to service. These research alliances are helping DB Schenker work on the transport and logistics solutions of the future.

One plan is to create an innovation radar for digitization in logistics that will permanently monitor the latest technologies and developments. They also aim to develop digital business models where one target area is to make use of 3D printing as an integrated part of our warehousing and supply chain services, while also leveraging unique competencies from the DB group such as engineering.

“Thanks to our partners from Fraunhofer as well as our colleagues from Deutsche Bahn, we have a very concrete picture of the capabilities of 3D printing,” says Thilo Koch, Program Lead for global innovation activities.

“As a result, we are evaluating options to combine our vast logistics service portfolio with the new opportunities that 3D printing can offer. Spare parts, for example, will increasingly be seen as a service with a clearly defined lead time. Managing the complexity behind that service is where we can leverage our capabilities. This will add value for our customers by reducing interfaces and complexity.”

According to an article published by the University of San Francisco in 2015 entitled, “3D Printing and Its Impact on the Supply Chain,” there are a number of other ways that 3D printers may alter the supply chain including substantially reducing manufacturing lead times; shorter time-to-market for new designs; customer demand will be met more quickly; and logistics will adjust to print-on-demand, eliminating the need to carry inventory.

It’s obvious that 3D printing will affect manufacturing and SCM. When you can create very complex items that used to be made on an assembly line, you eliminate the need for high volume production—as well as the workers employed at the factory. Leading logistics providers must become more efficient, more locally focused and more connected globally to succeed in the future.

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