Kunal Mehta, head of consulting with Blueprint, says 3-D printing has an opportunity to prove its value as manufacturers struggle with disruptions in supply chains triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
3-D printing has been gaining gradual traction as an alternative concept for manufacturing over the past decade. Now, however, with so many traditional factories struggling with disruptions in production, the technology is garnering fresh attention.
Already 3-D printing has stepped up to aid companies in desperate need of suppliers. One hospital in Paris took on 63 3-D printers and immediately began turning out N95 surgical masks and face shields, Mehta reports.
Given the current global health crisis, medical supplies are an obvious area where 3-D printing can be of immediate value. Mehta sees the situation as an opportunity to provide “proof of concept” of the innovative technology — “a chance for folks to use us and see what we can do.”
The pandemic has uncovered weaknesses in supply chains that weren’t evident during the lengthy global economic boom. Now, with manufacturers facing the dual problem of interrupted operations and plunging demand, 3-D printing offers the advantage of local production, which can adjust much more quickly to changing market conditions.
“I think of it as a framework for addressing geographic and demand risks,” Mehta says, “and ultimately for providing the agility that’s required. 3-D printing has an opportunity to de-risk the entire supply chain and manufacturing base.”
Mehta sees particular promise in the technology’s ability to turn out parts for machines, vehicles, planes and other pieces of equipment that need to continue operating for many years — long past the time when manufacturers can support older models. Instead of keeping large volumes of near-obsolete parts in warehouses, “you can digitize pars that can be printed on demand 50 years in the future,” he says.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.