The real breakthrough in the supply chain domain is the arrival of 3D printing as a serious competitor in finished product markets. The technology is slowly gaining acceptance in applications that are “taking it from the prototype to the production-grade stage for smaller components.” The potential changes are many.

Here are a few possibilities.

3PL to Manufacturer 3PL

A new type of 3PL could emerge that offers manufacturing services through 3D printing.  Operators like UPS are well positioned to take on this role because a number of intellectual property issues must be resolved before AM methods become ubiquitous. As a trusted third-party provider, UPS has the market stature and scale to function as a new type of hub where products are made, assembled, and distributed.

A New Breed of Agile Supply Chains

With 3D printers operating as standalone installations in strategic locations, companies could manufacture in short runs at multiple sites across the globe. The networks would flex with shifts in demand by reconfiguring the manufacturing nodes or by adjusting machine outputs. Production units shift rapidly from one product variant to another without the need for retooling or lengthy line delays. The AM model also offers tremendous opportunities to cut inventory costs, because there would be less need for inventory. The management of raw materials inventory also would be streamlined as production processes generate less waste.

Streamlined Maintenance

Armed with 3D printing, machine repair services “don’t have to have every single component; you can print components when needed,” says Ulrich. Positioning parts inventories would become much less of a challenge for teams in the field.

Extreme Just-in-Time

A flexible, highly adaptive network of 3D printing installations could take just-in-time and postponement operations to new levels of efficiency. AM methods could be used to produce precise quantities of customized components very late in the final production cycle when more accurate demand information is available.

New Risk Management Dimensions

Opportunities for improving risk management represent another potential benefit of AM-based manufacturing. Low market-entry barriers and the ability to retool quickly reduce business risk. The technology also provides companies with a rapid-response mechanism when an unforeseen incident disrupts the supply chain.

Green Premium

Since additive fabrication is less wasteful than traditional production processes, it reduces carbon footprints. Similar benefits accrue from innovations such as Oxman’s revolutionary design processes that increase functional efficiency, while reducing material content.



  1. How are supply chains changing due to 3D printing?
  2. How does 3D printing help in making the manufacturing industry more green?
  3. How is 3D printing helping in risk management?