Additive Manufacturing – How Will It Impact Traditional Supply Chains?

12 Mins read

Additive manufacturing is reshaping the manufacturing industry in a sustainable approach. Apart from eliminating design constraints, lowering material wastage or literally building almost anything, it positively impacts various industries even remotely associated with manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is contributing significantly to the restructuring of traditional supply chains across the manufacturing industry with its disruptive potential.

Traditional supply chains face a lot of challenges but have survived the test of times due to incremental innovations. With additive manufacturing, supply chains seek a revival and strong revitalisation.

Below, we try to understand how additive manufacturing is shaping the traditional supply chains and is rewriting the decade’s old industry.

1. Adoption of Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing was invented in the 1980’s, but it was restricted to the manufacturing industry till the early 2000’s. During this time, the patents acquired by big companies started to expire and people started experimenting giving a rise to a revolution. From then, in a short span of time, it has developed into an accessible democratic technology serving people from within and outside the manufacturing industry.

Any new technology is welcomed with skepticism first and once the initial resistance wears out, the technology normalises. Additive manufacturing too faced the same situation. Still today a lot of new industries are trying to learn and understand the full potential of additive manufacturing and how it can enhance the industry.

International conferences are held and additive manufacturing is discussed at detailed lengths. Separate events for dental applications, AM materials, hackathons, etc. are organised where the power and scope of additive manufacturing are explained and displayed so as to encourage industries to adopt the technology. A number of companies are incorporating the additive manufacturing technology in their workflow and the positive impact is prompting competitors to adopt the technology.

Additive Manufacturing and supply Chain
Above: Adidas Futurecraft 4D/Image Credit: Adidas

Global companies like Boeing, Airbus, Adidas, New Balance, GE, etc. have already adopted additive manufacturing in their workflow and aim to exploit its full potential in the coming years. Many of these new adopters have even launched a new product line by using AM. Adidas is one of the most well-known proponents of 3D printing and it recently launched its 3D printed shoe-line called ‘Futurecraft 4D’.

2. Traditional Supply Chains

Supply Chain

Simply stated Supply chain is the movement of raw material, work-in-progress and finished goods from the point of origin to the point of consumption. It is a network of inter-connected activities like product development, sourcing, manufacturing, and logistics as well as the concerned information systems aimed at maximising the value of the product.

The traditional supply chains worked on the Push based distribution strategy where the manufacturers simply produced goods and pushed it through their supply lines without any specific feedback loop. This often created excess wastage of goods and the cascading effect would be heavy.

traditional supply chains
Above: FedEx Supply Chain/Image Credit: FedEx

The new supply chain models depend on a pull-based distribution strategy where the customer demand pulls the goods through the supply lines and helps in a streamlining of the supply chains. This reduced the distribution problems and reduced wastage of goods, manpower, and storage.

But even the new supply chain model fails to analyse or predict the accurate requirement of a customer. The demography and geography of the customer and reliability of the product play a critical role in affecting the demand-supply balance and the whole system continues to run on inefficiencies.

3. On-Demand Manufacturing

The most significant benefit additive manufacturing provides is On-Demand manufacturing. On-Demand manufacturing is a new process of manufacturing wherein the goods are manufactured as and when they are required by the customer and not before-hand as in the case of traditional manufacturing methods.

Traditional manufacturing techniques require the product to be mass manufactured in sufficient quantities and store them in warehouses so the customers can be catered as and when he paces an order. This entails additional costs of storage and manufacturing even before an actual sale. So this not only blocks investment even before a sale is made, but also the quantity has to be accurately predicted otherwise the inventory piles up leading to increased cost of resources.

On-demand manufacturing eliminates these issues by manufacturing goods right when the customer demands. Additive manufacturing allows such flexibility in manufacturing at a low cost.

4. Additive Manufacturing based Supply Chain

Additive Manufacturing
Above: Additive Manufacturing in the Spare Part Supply Chain/Image Credit: Philips

Additive manufacturing, in its broadest sense, can affect the supply chain from the design stage to the logistical activities. All the related activities can improve their performance with AMs influence. Here are five underlying principles to determine the benefits of AM: [1]

Benefits of Additive Manufacturing
Above: Five underlying principles to determine the benefits of AM

1. Product Design: AM enables manufacturing of lightweight products with complex designs and functionalities. It can reduce the number of parts by incorporating them together in a single design. However, currently, it has limited number & type of materials available for manufacturing.

2. Device Design: This considers the design of the printer itself and how it can affect the usage of supporting equipment’s required for traditional manufacturing.

3. Production Line Design: This concerns the appropriation of resources like materials and automation of processes with how the AM system will be incorporated into the workflow.

4. Facility Design: Additive manufacturing systems allow for significant benefits in terms of energy consumption, the requirement of less number of jigs & fixtures, less equipment, and tooling costs, fewer movement costs, fewer and less-skilled operators and lower levels of inventory.

5. Supply Chain Design: This offers benefits like building new business models like selling digital files instead of physical products, a new industry of production of AM equipment, mass customisation, on-demand manufacturing, shorter lead time, product postponement, using logistic networks for setting up distribution centres which are closer to the customer.

The above principles define the design of supply chains and how additive manufacturing can positively affect it to build a new era of collaborative functionality where AM influences traditional supply chains to improve its overall efficiency.

Additive manufacturing can radically change how the traditional supply chains are operated across the world. Below are the transformative effects of additive manufacturing on traditional supply chains. They can be summarised in three contexts as follows:

traditional supply chains
Above: A chart showing the transformative effects of additive manufacturing on traditional supply chains

1. Environmental Context

Lower environmental impacts: Additive manufacturing optimises the use of materials thereby reducing the wastage and scrap. This ultimately reduces the energy consumption and lowering the carbon footprint – a direct positive impact on the environment. [2]

Possibility for waste reduction: Since the basic premise of additive manufacturing is to build the material layer by layer in an additive process, the material utilisation is obviously low. This reduces waste and the processes become more efficient. Moreover, the complete product is manufactured in a single operation rather than carrying out successive operations like turning, knurling, drilling, boring, etc. at different workstations. [3]

2. Operational Context

Flexibility: Additive manufacturing offers relative flexibility as it can manufacture extremely complex arts which were previously not possible. It has provided flexibility in terms of the materials and the type of products that can be manufactured and where the manufacturing takes place. [2]

Mass customization and print on demand: Additive manufacturing is a highly cost-effective manufacturing technology for low-volume production and at the same time the products can be easily customised to the customers’ needs and tastes. [4]

Reduction in assembly operations: AM can help to incorporate multiple parts with different functionalities into a single part as it gives tremendous design and manufacturing freedom (Recently Vitamix collaborated with Carbon3D & The Technology House to incorporate a complex six-part assemble model into a single 3D printed nozzle). This reduces the number of moving parts and ultimately the assembly operation. [5]

Lower tooling and fixture-less manufacturing: As a single AM unit can manufacture a complete part without needing any sort of tooling, it reduces dependence on jigs, fixtures, and tools which helps in reduction of production time. [6]

Automation, fewer working capital, and less-expert operators: AM process significantly reduces the manual intervention during the manufacturing stage. This requires fewer and less-skilled operators.

New Business Models: Industries can focus on new business models where the focus will be on selling designs rather than selling physical products. Also, a new industry for the production of AM systems and design tools for 3D printers will come to the market. [2]

3. Supply Chain Context

Information flows would increase while material flow decreases: Additive manufacturing systems depend on the designs rather than the skill of the operator. As a result, the design can be shared in any part of the globe and the AM systems will easily print the product as per the design. This will reduce the material flow across the globe as only the design file in a digital format will move to manufacturing locations rather than the material. The design will be printed in the most suitable printer and product will be made available. [7]

The distribution centres will store product blueprints and design files on their server farms or ‘in the cloud’ rather than physical items. [8]

Local supply chain/ production close to market: AM will help in shortening the supply chains and reducing the inventory stock through its close proximity to market and its ability to shorten lead times.

Fewer Logistics, faster supply chain: As products can be manufactured on-site anywhere across the globe, the requirement of transportation will fall thereby reducing the lead times and improving the supply chain efficiency. [3]

5. 3D Printing Business Models for Future Supply Chains

By now, the world has accepted the fact that even though 3D printing offers tremendous revolutionary benefits AM, as of now, cannot completely replace the traditional manufacturing. Both the additive and traditional manufacturing, individually, offer benefits which cannot be replaced by the other. Both these technologies can leverage each other’s potential and create a new workflow to benefit the world of manufacturing.

The future of 3D printing seems bright and it is bound to develop new business models and technology collaborations which will move towards sustainable manufacturing processes. Let’s have a look at the five possible future business models for 3D printing in creating efficient supply chains.

Possible Business Models

1. On-Demand Spare Parts

Additive Manufacturing
Above: On-demand Spare Parts Management through AM

Spare parts manufacturing can be collaborated with additive manufacturing and it can prove to be the most appropriate option to efficiently manage the spare parts industry. Spare parts management is an issue in every industry. Its accurate demand and supply have always been an issue and even modern management techniques have failed to resolve the issue.  On-demand manufacturing of spare parts can be the perfect solution. It is one of the first areas to be disrupted by the proliferation of 3D printing. [3, 8]

Spare parts take up a huge amount of inventory and eat up huge amounts of capital. Case studies estimate that the actual share of excess inventories can sometimes exceed 20%. [9]

Instead of carrying spare part stock, companies can print the required parts as and when required.  The digital files of the spare parts can be securely stored in databases or on ‘clouds’ (virtual warehouse). [15]

A company keeps its digital design files in a secure storage and when a customer places an order for a specific part, the local 3D printer will print that digital file and deliver the part. This can prove highly beneficial for rare, antique & obsolete parts.

Companies can collaborate with their logistics partners and build a network of on-demand manufacturing centres around the world. These centres can be located at warehouses and/or distribution centres thus enabling efficient pickup for the logistics partner. In the future, even the logistics will cover the manufacturing activity and deliver the spare parts efficiently. [15]

2. Individualised Direct Parts Manufacturing

This particularly profitable when a customer requires highly customised part since single piece production is the forte of AM systems. The customised parts can be printed as easily as any other regular part. Some of the industries which are and will leverage this potential are automotive (recently Mini let its users 3D print customisable accessories), Aerospace/Aviation (Already NASA, Boeing and others have started using customised 3D printed parts, and Healthcare (Prosthetics is the first area which is influenced by 3D printing)

In such a system, instead of dealing with multiple suppliers and deliveries, logistics providers can take care of sourcing of materials as well as 3D printing activities and then quickly deliver the parts safely on the same day.

Another business model recently made the news is mobile 3D printing. Instead of 3D printing at a stationary location in the warehouse, transport vehicles will carry a 3D printer and if the order is placed, the vehicle will print and deliver the product significantly reducing the lead times. Amazon recently was granted a patent for this ingenious system where a truck is fitted with 3D printers, with the intention of manufacturing products on route to the customer location. [12]

Recently, GEM Platform, a Korean manufacturer of 3D printers partnered with Jugnoo, India based hyperlocal startup, to provide on-demand 3D printing services. The collaboration led to the launch of ‘Printo’ a 3D printing online store. [13]

3. Product Postponement Services

The postponement is a business strategy wherein investment is made in the product or service only at the last moment. This helps in maximising possible benefits and minimising the risk.

By delaying the investment in the product/service, the capital can be saved till the last moment and utilised elsewhere while it minimises the risk which can result from cancelled orders.

Leveraging 3D printing potential in postponement strategies can assist in achieving higher levels of product customisation. Customisation is becoming more and more mainstream for both consumers and companies. A study by Bain & Company on online shopping preferences found that currently, only 10% of shoppers have used product customisation options but these shoppers have scored higher on their customer loyalty test. [10]

The principle of On-demand spare parts management can be applied to achieve similar on-time manufacturing and delivery.

Adidas is experimenting with such a model where it aims to open speed factories which will operate 3D printer and automation technologies to create customised shoes at local factories closer to the final delivery destination.

4. End-of-Runway Services

These services incorporate integrated logistics solutions at locations close to important airports. By manufacturing the products right on time and delivering it to the closest air hub, the manufacturing lead times are reduced, the pick-up point lead times are reduced and once the package is picked up at the air hub, it can be loaded and shipped and delivered the next day. [15]

UPS is experimenting with such an integrated logistics solution. It invested in Fast Radius which has a 3D printing factory strategically located minutes from the UPS global air hub. According to UPS, The products can be manufactured right until the pickup time and delivered anywhere in the U.S. the very next morning. [11]

Additive manufacturing
Above: Diagrammatic representation of End-of-Runway Services/Image Credit: DHL

5. 3D Print Shops for Businesses and Consumers

3D print shops are not new; there are many 3D print shops which lets customers print their parts easily and closer to their home. It is as simple as carrying a digital file in a USB drive and getting the file printed into an actual product. Similar what we do with our documents or camera photographs. [15]

3D printing allows comparative ease of operation and can be easily incorporated into this system. Supply chain can help leverage this same model by installing 3D printing systems at their pickup locations across the city. As logistics partners already have the ready infrastructure for the deliveries, the dense network can easily be leveraged.


Companies have understood the importance of incorporating additive manufacturing into their workflow for improving efficiency, reducing wastes, environment-friendly operations, greater customisation and localised manufacturing and hyper-fast deliveries. As days go by, more and more companies will realise the potential of additive manufacturing and start adopting the system as a way to strengthen their global reach and presence.

The new business models are promising and potential to grow is tremendous. Buoyed by this view, the 3D printing revolution will continue to grow and will only become stronger every day.

DHL in its assessment of the future of supply chains states that “3D printing is likely to complement rather than entirely substitute traditional manufacturing techniques. Simply put, not all products can and should be 3D printed. This conclusion is echoed in a recent survey which revealed that 38% of companies anticipate using 3D printing in their serial production within five years but not necessarily to completely replace traditional manufacturing” [14].

“In logistics, 3D printing will play a much more prominent role in the areas of spare parts logistics and individualized parts manufacturing. As manufacturers adapt their production processes and supply chains, this will open new opportunities and will also challenge logistics providers to find new customer-centric solutions. Some product ranges may be produced entirely on demand through 3D printing, and new regional and last-mile logistics solutions will be required.”

About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn.


1. Mashhadi, A. R., et al. (2015). Impact of Additive Manufacturing adoption on future of Supply chains, MSEC2015-9392, Proceedings of the ASME 2015 International Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference. Available at:

2. Campbell, T. A. and Ivanova, O.S. (2013). “Additive Nabufacturing as Disruptive Technology: Implications of Three-Dimensional Printing,” Technol. Innov., vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 67–79.

3. Dzhenzhera, G. (2013). “Additive manufacturing: opportunities and constraints c1 Additive manufacturing: opportunities and constraints.

4. Spahi, S. S. (2008). Optimizing the Level of Customization for Products in Mass Customization Systems., p. 219.

5. Gibson, I., et al. (2009) Additive Manufacturing Technologies: Rapid Prototyping to Direct Digital Manufacturing. Springer Science & Business Media, p. 484.

6. Zhou, C et al. (2011) “Development of a multi-material mask-imageprojection-based stereolithography for the fabrication of digital materials BT – 22nd Annual International Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium – An Additive Manufacturing Conference, SFF 2011, August 8, 2011, pp. 65 80.

7. Campbell, T., et al. (2011). “Could 3D Printing Change the World?”. Available:

8. DeAngelis, S (2013). “Additive Manufacturing and the Future of the Supply Chain.

9. Industrial Supply. The value of excess and obsolete inventory. Available:—Value-of-excess-inventory.php

10. Spaulding, E., and Perry, C. (2013) Making it personal: Rules for success in product customization. Bain & Company. Available:

11. Berman, J. (2016, May 20). UPS rolls out plan for full-scale on-demand 3D printing manufacturing network. Logistics Management.

12. JUSTIA Patents. (2013, November 8). Providing services related to item delivery via 3D manufacturing on demand. JUSTIA Patents. Available:

13. PR Newswire. (2018, February 26). Jugnoo launches an on-demand 3D printing store “Printo”. Available at:

14. Ernst & Young. (2016). How will 3D printing make your company the strongest link in the value chain?. Ernst & Young’s Global 3D Printing Report, 2016. Available at:$FILE/ey-global-3d-printing-report-2016-full-report.pdf

15. DHL. (2016). 3D Printing and the Future of Supply Chains: A DHL perspective on the state of 3D printing and implications for logistics.

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Manufactur3D is an Indian Online 3D Printing Media Platform that reports on the latest news, insights and analysis from the Indian and the Global 3D Printing Industry.
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