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Anecdotal evidence suggests that the flexibility of production and the fact that 3D printers can produce proximate to the point of input are already beginning to shorten supply chains in a number of industry sectors, a considerable boon for global competitiveness. But the seemingly broad capacity of 3D technology to generate product improvements and prototype new designs increases its role beyond supply chain efficiency into the even more influential area of product innovation. Of all the revolutionary capital available to the manufacturing sector, 3D has the most potential to fundamentally alter business models in that it can shape processes and products.
For existing supply chains, 3D technology can give the end-user the capacity to participate in the innovation process. At the same time, as printers fall in cost and as their capabilities are more widely understood by the public, they can very well stimulate much-needed manufacturing-related entrepreneurship. Over time, certain goods-producing sectors will be populated by small but disruptive competitors, a plus for the growth and global responsiveness of U.S. manufacturing.
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