3D Printing Has Hit Its ‘Hype Curve’ Peak, But What’s Next?

Supply chain consultancy urges business leaders to plan now

Additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing, is a buzz topic that many business leaders have been unable to escape over the past 12 months, but one which will have little impact in the immediate future but potentially cause chaos in the not so distant future, says supply chain consultancy, Crimson & Co.

As Bill Gates famously said, ‘we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten’ – “a statement which certainly rings true for 3D Printing, which is unlikely to affect businesses in the next two years, but undoubtedly will within the next ten years,” comments John Sewell, Principal, Crimson & Co.

“The widespread use of 3D printing is something which is still quite distant as a concept, yet now is the time for supply chain leaders to assess how the model is likely to affect them,” Sewell added. “The current excitement around 3D printing can be compared to the hype surrounding the emergence of lasers in the 1970’s – everyone knew that it would be huge, but they did not know what to do with it, and this sentiment is being mimicked with thoughts around 3D printing.”

One of the first areas to benefit from more widespread use of 3D printing will be sectors which require frequent ‘spares and repairs’. Traditionally, these types of businesses will spend large amounts on transporting small parts from across the world and storing them at a closer location to the end customer, where they will sit until needed. Sewell commented, “This is where supply chain leaders will need to weigh up the fees involved in each option and understand which route is right for them, but it is likely that costs will be dramatically reduced through the 3D printing option.”

The emergence of mainstream 3D printing will come around sooner than expected and supply chain leaders should be planning to achieve at least ‘stage one’ in engaging with all arms of the business and figuring out how the innovation might affect it.

Sewell added, “Those who recognise the importance in planning ahead with these emerging trends will be the innovators and early adopters, gaining an advantage over their competitors. However, those who fail will no doubt experience a frantic scramble to catch up with the competition and understand what needs to be done.

“Gaining a bit of experience and knowledge in the area of 3D printing now and preparing as much as possible will enable organisations to exploit opportunities as they arise,” concluded Sewell.