Even though 3D printing has been around for a while, it has struggled to move past its reputation as a high-priced toy for techies.
UPS, along with partners SAP and Fast Radius, a Georgia-based manufacturer, have launched an effort to bring 3D printing full steam into the world of scaled industrial production.
Instead of producing a single trinket or a custom iPhone case on a per-unit basis, the partners have teamed up to print everything from auto parts to medical devices. All of this is done at scale with production runs numbering in the hundreds of units.
In fact, it’s available as an “on-demand” service at UPS facilities — allowing 3D printing customers to take advantage of the global shipping giant’s logistical wizardry. UPS and Fast Radius have an on-demand 3D printing factory in Louisville, Kentucky, near the home of the shipper’s air cargo operation. According to Fast Radius CEO Chris Smith, the partners expect a new 3D printing factory near the UPS facility in Singapore to be up and running later this year.
It could be a game changer in the fast-growing 3D printing industry.
“Much like eCommerce digitised and transformed retail, 3D Printing will have a similar impact on manufacturing,” UPS Vice President, Strategy Alan Amling told Business Insider.
“The 3D printing industry is expected to grow from $5 billion in 2015 to $21 billion in 2021,” Amling added, citing a study from Wohlers Assoc. “Estimates vary widely, but all expect exponential growth. If 3D Printing captures just 5% of manufacturing it creates a $640 billion plus global market opportunity.”
Here’s how it will work.
Customers can submit orders through the Fast Radius website or at UPS House in Singapore. Then, Fast Radius will direct the order to the to most efficient factory based on geography, speed, and production requirements. According to UPS, orders can ship as early as the same day it is placed.
SAP’s supply-management software will be tasked with keeping this whole operation online. In addition, UPS and the German software firm signed a co-innovation agreement in May to work together on connected supply chain solutions. As esoteric as all of this may sound, there are real everyday benefits for businesses and consumers.
On-demand 3D printing allows manufacturers to engage in virtual warehousing. This reduces inventory costs by cutting down on the volume of parts businesses keep on hand. So instead of keep 10,000 units in a warehouse, a business can keep 2,000 units around — with the ability to instantly replenish the stock in as quick as 24 hours. This is especially useful for inventory that aren’t big sellers.
It also allows the manufacturers to pass on the savings to their customers while offering quicker production and greater levels of customisation.
According to UPS, this applies to everything from parts on commercial airliners to customer-made devices.
“Since success in on-demand manufacturing is not dependent on low labour-cost environments or huge factories with superior economies of scale, we will see a more balanced distribution of the global manufacturing capacity, investments and talent,” Amling said. “Countries previously locked out of the manufacturing economy will be able to create new opportunity for their people.”
So, there you have it. On-demand, large-scale 3D printing. It’s here.