This first scenario of AM replacing traditional manufacturing technologies is represented particularly strongly in the logistics and transportation sector. This may be because of 3DP’s logistical benefits: manufacturing closer to customers can have a huge financial impact, since it saves handling and transportation costs and reduces potential customer downtime.
In the second scenario, AM could become an additional production technology, existing side-by-side with technologies inside a company. In fact, production processes could be supplemented by additive manufacturing, since it offers companies an opportunity to produce products with improved functionality and unique features.
The evolution of AM in serial production will depend on companies improving and changing the value chain in new ways, by finding the value-add in the products they create. The real disruption will be around getting products to end customers – for example using AM to make medical products in hospitals on-demand for individual patients or cutting logistics costs by making parts closer to where buyers are based. There could also be huge tax and duty implications when parts don’t have to cross borders to get to buyers.
Value creation may increasingly be harnessed by middlemen or third parties, and on digital platforms where parts can be scanned and replicated on demand. But for companies, it could mean becoming a service provider by integrating AM into their core business.
This is what one chemicals company has done – it set up a dedicated AM business unit both to produce its own machine parts, such as heat exchangers and to target external customers, by developing materials and processes and offering 3DP engineering services.
What does this mean for your enterprise?
AM could deliver three ascending levels of benefit for businesses:
AM is applied within the existing supply chain and operations to improve efficiency (for example, with better prototypes, molds and machine parts, or as a production strategy for lot size one parts). Products are not redesigned at this level.
AM enables the (re)design and creation of end-use products with improved functionality or ones that could not be made previously, so satisfying unmet customer needs and winning new markets.
AM provides the opportunity for companies to extend or change their business models, reposition themselves in the value chain, or even gain competitive advantage from the technology by becoming an AM vendor.
To capitalize on these benefits, organizations would be well advised to engage an advisor to perform an AM diagnostic survey to recommend solutions, opportunities to add value, and a roadmap for implementation.
Anticipating the impact on the entire value chain
Currently there are five categories of parties in the AM value chain:
- Systems manufacturers: primarily original equipment manufacturers of AM machines; most of them also offer related software, materials and services
- Materials producers: providing raw materials for AM
- Software developers: such as for design, process simulation, workflow and CAD-model slicing
- 3D scanning and reverse engineering companies: focusing on the reverse process of scanning existing products, to digitalize or further engineer/process them.
- AM service providers: such as AM contract manufacturing, design, engineering or technical consulting.
But increasingly we will see all-in-one suppliers as companies extend their portfolios to incorporate more of the must-have capabilities. This trend is uppermost among materials producers from traditional manufacturing backgrounds – such as chemicals and metallurgy – that have become service providers to tap into application ideas for new markets.
AM production looks likely to become embedded in more commonplace locations. Almost two thirds of survey respondents can now foresee producing close to customers – up a massive 50 percentage points from 2016 (15%).