- More than 40% of 1300 users of 3D printing view reduced lead times as one of the benefits of the technology, according to the 2019 State of 3D Printing survey by Sculpteo.
- This is seen as an even bigger benefit for users in the industrial goods sector, with nearly 60% of respondents in this category citing lead times as a benefit.
- "A reduction in lead time would imply a reduction in inventory and a reduction in costs," Mohsen Attaran, an operations management professor at California State University Bakersfield, wrote in a 2017 paper "The rise of 3-D printing: The advantages of additive manufacturing over traditional manufacturing."
Multiple manufacturing companies over the last few years have cited improved lead times as a benefit of their 3D printing projects. In 2015, Unilever said 3D printing was able to reduce lead times for prototype parts by 40%. More recently, Audi has announced it is using 3D printing for its tail light covers.
"Using [3D printing] for the prototyping of tail light covers, we will be able to accelerate our design verification process," Tim Spiering, the head of the Audi Plastics 3D Printing Center, said in a statement last year. "We estimate time-savings of up to 50 percent by using this 3D print technique in our prototyping process of tail light covers."
3D printing can help out at various stages of the manufacturing process, Attaran told Supply Chain Dive in an interview. Additive manufacturing can reduce the time to market by allowing for much faster prototyping and can be used for the production of spare parts, which can lead to faster repair times, he said.
Bringing the production of these parts in-house can also reduce shipping cost for a company and lower inventory requirements.
"You can manufacture items gradually, on-demand" with 3D printing, Attaran said. This ability to move to on-demand manufacturing allows for a reduction in inventory because companies can just make what's needed instead of buying based on what is expected.
But Attaran is careful to point out that 3D printing is not going to replace traditional manufacturing, which in many cases is cheaper and faster if the economy of scale reaches a certain level. Additive manufacturing is a complement to traditional processes and is really meant for items like prototypes and replacement parts that aren't needed in large numbers, he said.
"If you want to manufacture [a] unique item at the low level then it's fantastic because it really is faster, it's cheaper, you have variety, you don't have inventory cost, and basically you manufacture what is demanded. You don't manufacture and put it in your warehouse hoping that you will sell," he said.
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