Making way for 3D printing

Making way for 3D printing

Barloworld Logistics identified 3D printing as a key tool that is changing the world of supply chain management, with the industry possibly servicing garage-sized industries in the near future. FOCUS reports

The 2017 supplychainforesight report by Barloworld Logistics made the revelation while urging business leaders and decision-makers to start planning for the integration of this technology into their businesses.

“It is clear that 3D printing is going to have a major impact on the supply chain and Barloworld Logistics believes that now is the time to investigate how and where this technology can be leveraged most effectively,” says Kamogelo Mmutlana, CEO at Barloworld Logistics.  

Various sectors such as corporations, educational institutions and government have embraced 3D printing. The 2016 Wohlers Report states that the 3D printing industry, or additive manufacturing, grew 25,9 percent to reach US$ 5,165 billion (R67,3 billion) in 2015. It is estimated that by 2025, the industry will reach US$ 550 billion (R7,175 trillion).

“The benefits are endless and include unlimited freedom with regard to product design and manufacturing, as well as lowered production costs,” notes Mmutlana. “From medical implants and prosthetics produced in a day, to low-cost housing, this technology will change our world.”

While 3D printing has not been widely embraced in South Africa, first-world countries such as the United States have adopted the technology, with more than two-thirds of American manufacturers now using 3D printing in one form or another.

Meanwhile, business analysts have predicted the rise of the “factory-in-a-box” style of production, which will do away with the need for multiple machines to make a single product.

“In the near future, each individual 3D printer could be able to print several different materials using multiple processes in multiple, decentralised locations,” explains Mmutlana, “As a result, logistics and supply chain management could be drastically transformed. Instead of serving big, complex networks, we may soon be tasked with enabling nimble, innovative, garage-sized industries.”

This concept is already somewhat visible in the 3D-design software launched as a joint venture by T-Systems South Africa and Dassault Systèmes in July. Part of this technology is a simulator, which is powered by one of the nine largest computers in the world (located in Germany).

This system can simulate an accident, the growth of cities and design factories and parts. What makes this technology ground-breaking is its ability, for example, to simulate how a factory would operate once it is built. This allows companies to identify any mistakes before the factory is built.

While this system is ideally suited to the manufacturing industry, it showcases the advanced technology that threatens to disrupt the transport and logistics industry. Mpumi Nhlapo, from T-Systems, warns that high-cost businesses are particularly suseptable to disruptions.

It is, therefore, important for businesses to understand and get ahead of these technological innovations. He points out: “If you are a high-cost gatekeeper, you are ripe for disruption.”

With Frost and Sullivan expecting global logistics costs to reach US$ 10,6 trillion (R137 trillion) by 2020, of which transport would make up 65 percent, it is essential for the logistics industry to find ways of reducing costs.

General Electric (GE) Aircraft has developed the world’s largest commercial jet engine by using 3D-printed metal parts for the GE9X twin-engine jet. One of the parts includes a 3D-printed nozzle, which replaced the conventional nozzles that had over 12 welded parts.

The 3D-printed nozzle reportedly reduced the weight of the aircraft by 25 percent, which increased fuel efficiency, and it is rumoured to be the company’s quietest engine to date. GE didn’t stop there; it is currently building the biggest 3D printer…

The Atlas printer will be able to print objects up to one-metre long using various metals instead of plastic. One 3D printer could thus print an entire car or truck engine.

While this technology could benefit the manufacturers of trucks as well as improve efficiency and weight (as seen with the GE9X twin-engine jet), it could also disrupt the logistics industry, as 3D printers could be used to manufacture products in store.

However, this technology offers the logistics industry the opportunity to be innovative. As Natasha Sampson, partner acquisition and success manager at Dassault Systèmes, notes: “There is a lot of opportunity in the unknown. Companies need to disrupt, or get disrupted. Doing nothing is not an option.”

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