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Monday 12 August 2013

3D printing technology - total game changer for many businesses and logistics providers!

I have been watching with interest the development of 3D printing technology and it's ever growing numerous applications. The impact of this technology for business and logistics companies is hard to forecast except to say it is huge!

3D printers such as the one pictured below are now available for home use at less than $2000 for a basic model.

So what are the possibilities and implications for business?

Lets say I want new water bottle cage for my +Specialized Bicycles mountain bike like this one.

Currently I could buy it online and have it shipped to me in a few days or I could go to my local bike shop to get one.

I think pretty soon the other alternative will be to buy the 3D file online and have it downloaded to my computer, just like a book from +Amazon.com or music from +Google Play or iTunes. I can then use the 3D file to print my own water bottle cage immediately at home.

So, no waiting, no freight charges, no warehouse storage, no inventory to carry for the seller, no sale for the bike shop or online retailer and the supplier of the 3D file gets paid directly. Furthermore no import duty or taxes are being collected by Customs and there is a reduced environmental impact as there is no packaging required to then dispose of later. Nor will there be any carbon emissions from the ship, plane and courier van that would have delivered the item in the old school manner.

Now a water bottle is not exactly a highly complex item but I think it illustrates the point I am making. The technology exists now to make simple items like this at home at affordable prices. 

3D printing technology is coming along in leaps and bounds and the composites now available are incredible and even allow electronic circuitry to be printed. Printing with molten metals is becoming a reality. One bloke in New Zealand is even 3D printing his own +Aston Martin DB4 in his garage! Read more

Imagine what this technology can do to improve service from your typical mobile repair guy that might come to your house to fix your dishwasher for example. If he needed a part to complete the repair he could have a 3D printer in his van, or use yours, and create the part and install it on the spot rather than ordering it and coming back later if he didn't already happen to have it on board.
The possibilities and applications are virtually endless. The efficiency gains for the end user and the supplier are immense.

For the shipping and transport industry this 3D printing technology combined with densification of products will lead to a shrinking freight task. By densification I mean things such as, flat packed furniture, data hard drives being superseded by USB sticks, CD and DVD's gradually being eliminated by digitisation and online delivery, detergents and even food being shipped as concentrates. This all means less transport capacity required and a diminishing need for customs brokers and warehouses. Freight forwarders will increasingly be transporting the printers and composites rather than the finished goods themselves.

3D printing might even prove to be a great equaliser for the rest of the world in competing against low labour cost countries such as China and India. If consumers can make their own items efficiently at home they will be looking for the best design as the manufacturing and freight costs will be pretty much eliminated. Price will be less relevant.

You really need to be thinking ahead about how 3D printing and other technologies will impact you and your business and start re-engineering the way you do things now. It will revolutionise more things than we can currently imagine.

All for now,

+Brad Skelton 

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