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The Revolution Will Be In 3D

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In the first of a series of posts on disruptive technologies, Charlie Bradshaw, founder and CEO at Matrix APA, looks at how 3D printing will revolutionise procurement.


We’ve all heard about 3D printing. Everything from cars to clothing can now be manufactured using this additive manufacturing technique. But what you probably don’t realise is the hugely disruptive effect it will have on mainstream supply chain and procurement teams in the very near future.


To date, we’ve seen only small glimpses of its true potential. We’re now on the cusp of major developments that will have repercussions within manufacturing. Just two examples are in test-bed manufacturing lead-times:

  • Test-bed manufacturing: Ask a buyer how long it takes to get a product from concept to sale and they’ll likely say several months. With 3D printing, buyers can see goods produced in much smaller batches, to a high standard, in just a few days. This allows buyers to ‘try before they buy’. Many buying decisions are made using intuition rather than hard data, but with 3D printed products they can manufacture small ‘test-bed runs’ to prove demand and then place orders using real sales data. The ability to test the marketplace will have a hugely positive effect on profitability. Retailers currently discount a large proportion of stock due to inaccurate buying decisions – with 3D printing, procurement teams will be able place orders with far lower risk profiles, ensuring more stock is sold at full price and businesses only finance new products that they know will perform.
  • Production lead-times: 3D printing will speed up the entire manufacturing process. For example, production using injection/blow moulding will be reduced from lead times of 6-8 weeks to just a few days, simultaneously shaving up to 90% off the cost of tooling. Retailers, in particular, will reap rewards from that. It’s an industry driven by innovation, and the quicker new products reach the customer, the greater the impact on the bottom line.

Tech-savvy companies are already showing how it’s done. For example, Unilever has seen a 40% time reduction in the production of bottle caps and toilet rim blocks at some of its Italian factories. The consumer goods giant is able to design and print a variety of injection moulds for different parts that can undergo functional and consumer testing, on the same day.


For businesses driven by disruptive technology, this will exponentially cut down the time and cost of designing and manufacturing goods. If businesses switch their focus to the huge amount of time and money they can save by investing in cutting-edge technology, they will be future-proofing their business.


The challenge for procurement though is to be fully prepared and understand how it will affect their corporations and supply chains the world over.


This is the first part of a series exploring disruptive technologies. Next month will focus on artificial intelligence.


Charlie Bradshaw is founder and CEO of product design, supply chain and procurement specialist, Matrix APA


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.

Charlie Bradshaw
Posted by Charlie Bradshaw

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