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Goodbye assembly line, hello 3-D printer?
We may be on the cusp of a revolution in manufacturing.
Last month two manufacturing companies announced that they had successfully "printed" the entire body of a car (called the "Urbee") using a three-dimensional printer.
The car was constructed using the additive-layer manufacturing process (also known as "rapid manufacturing"), which has been used for more than 20 years to produce prototypes and patterns. The Urbee, however, demonstrates that the technology can be used to create more and more products, even ones as complex as a car. (To get an idea of how the technology works, see this demo video of a 3-D printer creating a ball bearing on YouTube.)
Urbee creators Stratasys and Kor Ecologic currently have no plans to mass-produce the car. But forward-thinking companies may want to start contemplating what such developments could mean for their supply chains. As a starting point for this discussion, read "How rapid manufacturing could transform the supply chain" from the Quarter 4/2008 issue of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.
Some potential changes that author Phillip Reeves foresees include:
- More product personalization. Without the constraints of tooling, jigs, and fixtures, rapid manufacturing gives companies the ability to cost-effectively produce batch sizes of one.
- Manufacture at the point of consumption. This technology allows manufacturing to occur simultaneously at multiple locations close to the end consumer.
- Faster order fulfillment. With more distributed manufacturing, companies could potentially eliminate many stages of traditional supply chains, including distribution of finished goods.
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