Supply chain management has seen transformative advancements driven by the convergence of technology, automation and human talent.
For example, the integration of 3D printing technology has transformed traditional supply chain practices. With the ability to manufacture complex designs, reduce costs and simplify production lines, industry is re-evaluating manufacturing processes.
Automation also plays a role in supply chain productivity. By integrating 3D printing with automation, manufacturers can achieve around-the-clock production, increasing output without additional labor costs. This pairing means that machines operate during non-working hours, optimizing production volume.
Effective inventory management is another important part of supply chain optimization. The pandemic highlighted the importance of localized, on-demand production that can be facilitated by 3D printing. As companies address current disruptions and future uncertainties, the demand for warehouse space continues to be significant. Just-in-time production can streamline inventory levels and meet customer demands amidst supply chain challenges.
Finally, with digital manufacturing, success of supply chain management relies not only on technological advancements like 3D printing, but also on human talent. While automation improves efficiency and productivity, human expertise remains essential in overseeing operations and identifying situations that require intervention. Re-skilling the workforce is necessary for manufacturers to fully leverage the potential of innovative technologies.
To find out what specific factors have shaped the evolution of supply chain management, Machine Design asked Dave Prezzano, global head of Go-to-Market, HP Personalization and 3D Printing at HP, for his input.
Machine Design: What are the lessons from the pandemic that informed some of the recent product development for supply chain managers?
Dave Prezzano: The urgency of the global pandemic made it clear that traditional supply chains are ill-equipped to tackle disruption brought on by these sorts of wide-scale and unforeseen events. As a result, onshoring manufacturing, building supply chain resiliency and enabling just-in-time production for products in critical industries has been growing in importance. So, too, has the pivotal role additive manufacturing plays in the solution throughout the chain of production.
Today, businesses across industries are re-evaluating the way they design, manufacture and mass-produce goods using revolutionary 3D printing technology. One of the key differentiators of HP’s 3D printing technology in end-of-arm tooling and fixturing solutions is the ability to help customers overcome pain points associated with traditional manufacturing processes, such as achieving complex designs, lightweighting without compromising part strength and durability.
This significantly reduces costs through design, material and simplification of production lines. Manufacturers are able to completely reimagine their factories, warehouses and fulfillment centers as a result. Smaller robot-equipped fulfillment centers, for example, can hold less inventory while maintaining access to an entire product range via a virtual warehouse to meet customer needs quickly and cost-efficiently.
HP customers can derive even more value from the implementation of 3D printing and newly advanced automation solutions at commercial scale, offering uniformity, repeatability, optimization and production acceleration without the need for additional human intervention.
For example, the HP Jet Fusion 3D Powder Handling Automation Solution and the HP Jet Fusion 3D Automation Accessory—both compatible with the HP Multi Jet Fusion 5200 Series 3D Printers using PA12—can be easily and completely integrated into existing factory configurations with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), automating and streamlining production steps with modularity and flexibility at the core to meet the demand for high-volume 3D print production.
MD: We understand how productivity can help improve the supply chain. How can the supply chain help productivity?
DP: Effective supply chain management can reduce inventory and lead times, both of which result in increased productivity and cost savings. Leveraging both 3D printing technology and automation solutions can revolutionize our approach to supply chain management and factory productivity in ways that would be impossible to achieve via traditional manufacturing methods.
3D printing’s inherently flexible nature paired with automation means that machines can run productively during night or weekend shifts, increasing production volume without incurring additional labor costs. As product output increases, manufacturers can take advantage of an accelerated time-to-part, further enabling them to expand their production.
MD: What are some of the overlooked areas for improvement in the supply chain?
DP: Inventory management is a significant element of the supply chain which can profoundly affect the bottom line. It can also have an impact on our ability to respond to market changes quickly and effectively—for example, during the pandemic. At the height of COVID-19, it was often 3D printing that allowed disrupted supply chains to be simplified and strengthened at the same time with an emphasis on localized, on-demand production.
Yet, even with a notable industrial real estate market slowdown, demand for warehouse space prevails. This is driven by companies looking to hold more inventory closer to their customers and address both current and future supply chain disruptions.
3D printing can serve as a valuable alternative as the landscape of industrial real estate continues to evolve post-pandemic. As providing commerce to customers quickly and efficiently remains a priority for companies amidst strong consumer demands and prevailing supply chain disruptions, 3D printing can reduce the dependence on extensive warehousing space for products and materials by making just-in-time production a reality and competitive edge.
MD: We are at the intersection of the digital revolution, robotics and human skills. What’s the key to getting them all to work together?
DP: The next phase in the digitalization of the manufacturing sector—Industry 4.0—is just as much about the talent as it is about the technology powering the transformation. It is true that as more processes along the production line become automatized, complex factory configurations can run more efficiently while becoming independent from human operation. However, this does not remove the need for humans altogether.
Re-skilling is the ultimate challenge facing manufacturers today. We need the workforce to oversee the operation of these new technologies and understand when human intervention is needed. We also need to train the workforce to get the most out of innovative technologies like 3D printing. Product designs for traditional manufacturing methods, for example, must be revised and enhanced if they are to be 3D printed, which requires a whole new set of skills as well as a shift in design mindset.
The moment we start to view technology and talent as complementary, rather than a choice of one over the other, is when we will realize the most value out of both resources while satisfying market needs—now and in the future.