Ask most people what 3D printing is good for and prototypes, bespoke items and repairs will probably feature most highly. There is another use which is less mentioned; but no less interesting or important: local manufacturing.
Also referred to as distributed manufacturing, this is changing the way supply chain works. But what does that mean and why the buzz? In summary:
- Breadth of choice -this is a real win in many cases. See the Fairphone example below.
- Quick delivery -OK it’s all relative. You might get something which is held in stock locally faster, but if you were buying something very niche it would often be coming from a warehouse or manufacturer elsewhere in the world and lead times are much longer.
- Reduced stock-keeping / reduced waste -nobody can predict their stock-holding perfectly. Fairphone 1 is now end of life, but guess what- I am not sitting with surplus stock. I am just looking forward to getting involved in new products for Fairphone 2.
- Support of local economy – I have no problem with the global economy. But I love to support the local economy whenever possible. The UK has become more & more service based over the years, relying more on imports than ever before. But our proud manufacturing heritage is coming back, and that’s cause for celebration!
- Low Carbon footprint– the feel good factor of knowing your item was produced around the corner rather than arriving in a container on some smoke-spewing container ship from Asia. I use a lot of raw material which is manufactured in the UK, as well as our neighbour the Netherlands.
An ideal example of this is the partnership between Fairphone and 3D Hubs. Fairphone provide digital files for 15 designs (currently) of phone case for the first generation Fairphone.
3D Hubs then put prospective case buyers in contact with a local Print Hub, who might have 30 colours.
This means that the consumer gets a choice of 450 products to choose from while the supplier keeps no stock.