COVID-19 sent a stark reminder of how fragile the global supply chain is. When the pandemic hit, sources of supply located in Asia and other places were not available as the global economy halted. Today we're still picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the pandemic as many offshore products have been slow to return to the global supply chain.
3D Printing and Self-Sufficiency
The conditions created by the pandemic create a compelling case for the use of 3D printing. A means of self-sufficiency, 3D printing allows manufacturers to keep operations running by producing their own product supply. 3D printers are accessible, available, and now increasingly use a variety of materials and feedstocks to create whatever product is needed.
This new trend is being widely adopted to supplement manufacturing and production efforts wherever a risk of supply chain disruption is possible. Having a robust 3D printing skill set and lab makes an organization much more resilient and able to deal with any unforeseen challenges from the end-to-end supply chain.
U.S. Military: A Case Study
The Xerox Corporation and the Naval Postgraduate School engaged in a strategic collaboration focused on advancing additive manufacturing research. The implications of this research could dramatically transform the way that military supplies are sent to deployed forces.
In this collaboration research is banded together with the intent of servicing the military supply chain which is one of the most complex in the world. Collaboration is also intended to push a widespread adoption of 3D printing throughout the United States Navy and to show, as proof of concept, that 3D printing can be a strategic advantage technologically and practically for a military supply chain.
The Naval Postgraduate School serves as the U.S. Navy's applied research university. When they engage in this research, they use 3D printing innovations to show how the production of parts and objects can be streamlined to save time and money opposed to government contractors or other vendors.
Reliable Replacement Parts, On-Demand
The Navy, in combination with Xerox 3D Printers were able to use cost-effective aluminum wire to fabricate parts that were able to withstand the rigors of the operational demands of a military environment. The ability to produce reliable replacement parts on demand is a military advantage for any nation as they do not need to rely on the global supply chain.
Simultaneously, it helps address the hidden costs of traditional manufacturing by circumnavigating the global supply chain and relying on internal 3D printing capabilities. The military's collaboration with Xerox is one example of how 3D printers are being used to quickly produce goods with short notice while providing alternate means of supply. The same process that they're exploring can be applied to traditional production and manufacturing within the domestic environment for goods and services that are supplied throughout the world.
As 3D printing technology advances with more accurate, compact, and flexible applications, more products will be able to be produced. The versatility of 3D printing also allows products to be produced from generative designs where a certain form or object or material may be tried before it's used. Such prototyping is quite valuable in arriving at the proper part rather than go through the laborious and lengthy trials needed in traditional manufacturing.
With such flexibility and versatility, supply chains have a whole new frontier of self-sufficiency that are possible and probable as 3D printing and all the technology that supports it comes into full being.