Strategy&: 3D printing to challenge logistic demand

13 February 2015 4 min. read

The rise of 3D printing is expected challenge future logistic demand, a recent analysis by Strategy& shows. The consulting firm finds that the reduction in components required to assemble 3D printed produces could affect the need to move precursors between manufacturers and ultimately the bottom line of the transportation industry. The firm recommends the transportation industry keep a keen eye on developments within manufacturing to be abreast of disruptive changes.

3D printing
3D printing consists of a process known as additive manufacturing, in which “successive layers of the alloy are melted, shaped, cut with lasers, cooled, and then laid down on top of each other to produce the finished part.” This process is in contrast to reductive manufacturing, whereby material is worked upon, by removing what is in the way, until the requisite form is left over.

The advantages of 3D printing include the possibility of customising every product, more efficient design processes, and simpler production processes. In recent years, the market for 3D printing has taken off and is seen by many as the future. The market has grown strongly, and is expected to reach £3.3 billion by 2018, doubling from £1.6 in 2013. With the rapid development of this form of manufacturing, the mobility of the technology and its vast application within a variety of industrial and logistical elements of the value change may soon be upon us.

3D printing

In a recent article from Strategy&, titled ‘Disruption & Anticipation’, the deployment of this technology is considered. The article looks at the way in which 3D printing is set to influence the transportation supply chain, noting that while transportation companies are currently driving through good times – with the price of fuel radically reduced, the efficiency and cost cutting from the recession now reaping rewards, as well strong traffic volumes – they must too be warned that technological changes may be set to disrupt their supply lines in the coming decade.

Strategy&, Disruption & Anticipation

In the report, the authors note that the manufacturing industry is looking with keen interest at the 3D printing process and what it might mean for their business. As an example of the potential benefit of the technology, consider General Electric’s jet fuel nozzles. Traditionally the finished product is made up of 18 components, each from a variety of raw materials that need to be first themselves finished before they are assembled in the final product. However, the process is now completed by a 3D printer that uses a single alloy that, in an additive process, has successive layers of the alloy melted, shaped, cut with lasers, cooled, and then laid down on top of each other to create nozzles that are lighter, more durable, and more fuel-efficient. Manufacturers therefore, see potential in 3D printing to streamline operations, improve quality, and lower costs.

3D printing is understandably not well suited for all industries, while art, for instance, needs a human hand, and food needs the sun, other industries are exploring how 3D printing may benefit the manufacturing process. Some processes, according to Strategy&’s analysis, like footwear and toys ranked particularly highly in terms of their fittingness for 3D manufacture, electronic equipment, computers and automotive parts may be manufactured this way.

3D Printing’s Impact on the Transportation Industry

What it might mean for transportation
The effect of 3D printing, according the authors, may well come to affect the transportation industry. This is noted in the GM nozzle example: a manufacturing process that required 18 pieces now requires considerably less – but by this, also reduces the need for the transportation of up to 18 pieces between suppliers and as such, less freight. The consulting firm notes that “41% of the air cargo business and 37% of the ocean container business is at risk because of 3D printing,” with the knock on effect of reducing road freight by 25%. With the most affected industries likely to be those where the costs of transportation are high relative to the value of the good, examples include toys, footwear and electronic equipment.

3D to affect transportation industry

While Strategy& expects the full effect of changes to industrial manufacture may not occur in the near future, the transportation industry may be better off starting to consider how these changes may come to affect their business sooner rather than later, or at least at the stage where the technology is mature enough for a definitive trend to be isolated. “Instead of ‘wait and see,’ we advise peeking around the corner to figure out whether there might be any steps worth taking now,” conclude the authors.