3D printing may not be a panacea, but it will play a major role in enabling more localised manufacturing. However, it is not without its challenges.
The concept of 3D printing or additive manufacturing is not new. Like supply chain it has been around for more than 30 years, and was more commonly known as rapid prototyping
. It was a way of creating a prototype of a product (initially printed circuit boards) directly from a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file. The technology has advanced over the last 3 decades to enable products and parts to be printed in a range of different materials, and to final product quality. The obvious benefit that such a technology provides as highlighted by Len Pannett (Partner, Visagio
) is that enables more localised production. This could even be as localised as your home.
As Len discusses in the video above, the technology is developing at a phenomenal rate but is not without its challenges. There are still issues with product quality, which often require costly post-printing finishing processes. The number of materials that can be used within a single item is still limited, and the production speed still measured in hours and not minutes. There are also challenges around the pricing and commercial models, as 3D printing enables us to move from a product driven to digitally driven supply chain for a wide range of products. In this respect there may be lessons to learn from the music industry. It also raises issues around Intellectual Property (IP), liability, and taxation as we move to an age of production without borders.
These legal implications are the focus for the next section.
For a more in-depth understanding of the opportunities and challenges of 3D printing to support more localised manufacturing please view Len’s full presentation: Role of 3D printing (22:44)