Wipro: Disrupting the Supply Chain Model – the 3D way

By Atul Kapur, Global Business Head – Compute Vertical, Wipro
Atul Kapur, Global Business Head, Wipro, discusses the potential of 3D printing in supply chain...

Ensuring a seamless and continuous supply of material, parts and products is critical to a business and supply chain is often referred to as the lifeline of a business. This further gets accentuated in crisis situations such as natural catastrophes and COVID-like environments. We have all heard harrowing stories of the impact of Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on the automobile industry supply chain, disruption in the medical device industry supply chain caused by Hurricane Maria, and many others. Such difficult times are an opportunity for us to re-think our business strategies and necessitates creation and adoption of new models. 

Conventional supply chain models propagate consolidation of suppliers to ensure cost-effectiveness. However, maturing technologies such as additive manufacturing have now challenged some of these fundamental ideas and brought to fore opportunities that make us re-think the manufacturing, inventory and supply chain strategy. 

Taking just-in-time to a new level

Over years, the concept of just-in-time inventory management involving ordering and producing products on an as-needed basis, has delivered unparalleled efficiency in supply chain models adopted by organizations across industries. 

Leveraging 3D printing, spare parts and product manufacturing processes can be relocated to produce items on-the-spot which cuts down on the logistic time and cost even further. Providing this ability to manufacture parts and products at the location where they are required and at the time when they are required, additive manufacturing takes the concept of just-in-time to an unprecedented level. 

Beyond inventory optimisation

Reducing inventory costs is just one of 3D printing’s impacts on the supply chain. 3D printing helps companies simplify the process of sourcing multiple parts in the initial manufacturing process. For example, GE’s advanced turboprop jet engine, which is the first jet engine made largely of 3D printed components, helped the company reduce 855 separate parts to only 12. Instead of sourcing 855 separate parts from across locations, these 12 can all be potentially produced at one local location.

Supply chain challenges emanating from natural calamities, political turbulences, logistical issues etc can be minimized leveraging 3D Printing offering the distinct advantage of manufacturing in close proximity to the market.

Additionally, additive manufacturing offers the ability to bring down transportation costs drastically. This not only means a greener carbon footprint, but also a reduction in geographically specific tariffs on transporting goods.

Offering beyond costs

The case for 3D Printing however goes way beyond cost efficiency. Employing 3D printing, standardized designs can be printed locally, drastically reducing lead times as manufacturers maintain control. It also offers the remarkable advantage of being able to customize the basic product in accordance with local requirements and customer preferences. Standard designs of products can also be customized easily at the point of sale. All it takes is a tweak to the 3D printing digital file. 

There are many examples today of organizations leveraging 3D printing extensively to reduce costs, lead time, customize and gain serious competitive advantage. Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, saved significant costs by 3D printing nearly 15,000 spare parts and on-demand replacements. Vehicles are repaired faster, and DB has reduced the costs and amount of space needed to house large inventories of spare parts. Deutsche Bahn is not the only entity excited about the options made available by 3D Printing. GE, BMW, Adidas, Siemens Mobility and countless other companies have introduced 3D printing in their manufacturing and supply chain strategy. 

The potential is immense as organizations continue to experiment and adopt 3D printing aggressively. By enabling print anywhere and print-on-demand capabilities, conventional manufacturing and supply chain models can be enhanced to deliver superlative competitive advantage to businesses.


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