Operations Payoff

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3D Printing in Wholesale Distribution?

3D printing is rapidly changing the manufacturing landscape. Companies are using it not only to speed up new product development by allowing engineers to print prototype parts on demand, but also for lower volume production. The technology is moving rapidly in both plastic and metal applications.

I wonder if 3D printing might be a disruptive technology for wholesale distribution as well. Perhaps it’s the ultimate in Just-In-Time fulfillment for distributors. They could have printers right in the warehouse and when they get an order for a lower volume part, just print and ship. Inventory would be low or perhaps at zero stocking levels. As part specifications change, distributors could update the program and not worry about obsolete parts.

Going one step further, what if wholesale distributors or manufacturers provided 3D printing as a service directly at the customer location. They could lease the machines, keep them programmed and maintained, and provide the raw materials as needed on a Vendor Managed Inventory basis. This reduces the inventory in the total supply chain, provides the shortest possible materials lead-time and is a win/win for customers and suppliers.

Developing a supply chain framework using 3D printing could transform your business model. Using disruptive thinking is key to accelerating profit and growth. Are you considering disruptive ideas?

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