3D printer in action

How 3D printing can assist with supply chain issues

<strong>The global coronapandemic is multiplying problems in supply chains, especially in departments such as production and logistics. The spread of the coronavirus has disrupted factories, destabilised supply chains and hampered production in many industrial plants. This global crisis is forcing most companies to review their current working practices and consider the implementation of new tools and technologies. Enter: 3D printing</strong>

The outbreak and the rapid spread of the new coronavirus is giving rise to concerns among supply chain managers. Many factories are still at a standstill, or are not yet running at full capacity. This is causing supply chain problems that are having a negative impact on the entire supply chain. The resulting shortage of parts is so great that it cannot simply be dealt with by suppliers in other countries, insofar as it would already be possible to purchase certain parts from other suppliers in the short term. As a result, many products are not finished on time. Important links in the global supply chain fall over as dominoes.

The outbreak of the coronary pandemic poses a major challenge to the medical sector worldwide. The demand for respiratory and protective equipment is greater than ever. The manufacturing industry is providing assistance in various areas. Many medical parts or devices are currently being printed to make up for the shortages. But 3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), can offer a possible solution in industrial sectors.

Meanwhile, 3D printing has proven to be an efficient way to make faster and cheaper prototypes, but thanks to recent developments in production speed, tolerances and materials, 3D printers are increasingly used in production processes, from the design phase to large-scale production. More and more companies around the world are recognising the opportunities offered by AM and are investing heavily in AM technologies, not least because their use can improve production continuity. Moreover, it can maintain liquidity in a period of crisis. Indeed, thanks to additive technology, companies can produce just that one missing part or component in their own company. Imagine missing a single component to finish a certain product. You don’t know when you will receive the part you need. Although you have 99% of the elements, missing one slows down the whole production process. However, having access to 3D printing (whether in-house or through a service provider) in such a situation can help to complete your product quickly.

In this way, 3D printers enable organizations to build up decentralised production chains. Companies that now realise how vulnerable they are, have an interest in taking a closer look at the possibilities of 3D printing. Many components used in machines and devices can be replaced by technically equivalent or sometimes even better 3D printed parts. By using high-quality 3D printed metals such as stainless steel or titanium alloys and plastics such as PEEK, ULTEM or PC, parts with very good mechanical properties can be produced. Whether it is to temporarily overcome an interrupted supply, to implement a deliberate strategy to reduce supply chain risks, or to partially re- or near-shore production on a permanent basis: 3D printing can provide parts with the same functional properties.

Moreover, 3D printers offer the possibility to produce even the most non-standard and hardly available customised elements in a short time. The use of 3D printing technology makes it possible to make components where and when they are needed, without having to use very expensive tools such as moulds. The technology drastically reduces the dependence on external suppliers, which is not only a big advantage in a crisis like this.

Several observers assume that interruptions in supply chains become more likely in the future – not necessarily as a result of pandemics. The rapidly evolving geopolitical relationships are also a source of uncertainty. Perhaps this increased risk requires companies to (re)assess their analyses and consider alternatives – such as 3D printing. However, the possibilities of the technology – from small and large products, over production tools, to (spare) parts of machines – are often still unknown. As an independent organisation Flam3D tries to inform companies and has <a href=”https://www.flam3d.be/categorie-vl/specials”>a series of articles that can be found behind this link.</a> Furthermore, we are available <a href=”https://www.flam3d.be/contact/”>to provide information or advice for individual questions</a>.