APICS is the premier professional association for supply chain management.

Printing and Delivering the Future

by APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE |   2014 | 0 | 0

You can’t read business news today without stumbling upon an article about the value 3D printing brings manufacturers. It’s clear why Amazon has announced its entry into the 3D printing space: The company constantly seeks to reduce shipping times. In that same vein, the United States Postal Service (USPS) also could embrace 3D printing— a “hail-Mary idea” for the beleaguered agency, according to the Atlantic.

“If companies can print products quickly at shipping centers, they don’t need much of an inventory, and they can ship them out to nearby consumers right away,” Joe Pinsker writes. “Amazon is just the most recent in a long line of businesses to angle itself toward this predicted future of manufacturing—a line long enough to include, it turns out, even old-school institutions like the [USPS].”

According to the USPS-commissioned report, “If It Prints, It Ships,” the 3D printing industry was valued at $3 billion in 2013, but it is expected to grow to $16.2 billion by 2018. The Postal Service could be in a position to make an additional $485 million because of increased commercial-package volume. Six days a week, the USPS delivers to more than 153 million addresses in the United States. Pinsker points out that while the USPS report is highly speculative, the potential for the agency to benefit is undeniable.

“To capture the potential benefit of 3D printing, the Postal Service must at least maintain its current delivery network and keep pace with evolving consumer needs,” the report outlines. “Many 3D printing products will be manufactured closer to where consumers live but will still need last-mile delivery.”

The USPS could further capitalize on 3D printing by

  • housing 3D printing facilities, either by itself or through a partnership with the private sector, where designs can be printed and quickly shipped from the same facility
  • encouraging 3D printing manufacturers to locate near or in USPS facilities and processing plants
  • underscoring and enhancing its logistics capabilities to support the delivery, return, recycling, and other elements of the 3D printing market
  • delivering 3D printing materials to homes (if home 3D printing becomes commonplace).

“If It Prints, It Ships,” contains information on 3D printing’s potential implications, including more single-item parcels shipped to consumers over shorter distances, instead of hundreds of thousands of identical items sent by containerized cargo over vast distances; reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emissions; and less material wasted due to precise manufacturing.

Moreover, the report emphasizes how 3D printing could make large manufacturers and retailers rethink their need for maintaining expensive and redundant warehouses stocked with massive inventories in favor of just-in-time inventory.

Is your business ready for 3D printing?

In the July/August 2014 issue of APICS magazine, Julie Kim and David Robb write, “Looking ahead, the greatest potential is likely with industrial 3D printers and their effect on the global supply chain.” If an “old-school institution” like USPS is considering how its business will be changed and enhanced with 3D printing, don’t you think it’s time for you to consider it also? The APICS magazine article includes the following questions for which a “yes” answer indicates that 3D printing might be appropriate:

  • Is customization a key business strategy?
  • Are production volume requirements low?
  • Is demand constantly changing and difficult or impossible to predict?
  • Does remoteness in the supply chain lead to high transportation costs and long lead times?
  • Does the cost of traditional manufacturing create too significant a barrier to market entry?
APICS magazine is just one of the many resources available to you as an APICS member. Other benefits include free access to the APICS body of knowledge through research and other publications, discounts on APICS products and events, and the opportunity to network with nearly 40,000 members around the world. If you’ve never been a member of if you have let your membership lapse, now is the time to reconnect with APICS. Visit apics.org for more information.

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