3-D Printing Will Bring Changes to Direct Sourcing

But not overnight, at least not for the changes being touted as the future of direct sourcing.

Print a part on demand? Not likely. Not soon.

Print a sample part on demand for evaluation — you could have that tomorrow.

What’s the difference?

First of all, today’s 3-D printers can only work with very specific plastics. Generally speaking, these plastics will not be suitable for the vast majority of parts the organization needs.

Secondly, most 3-D printers cannot mass produce parts fast enough to be useful to an organization that needs the parts in quantity.

Thirdly, the economics of 3-D printing today are not nearly where they need to be for mass production compared to current production techniques.

It will be a while before each of these criteria are met, and until they are, 3-D printing won’t be the future of direct sourcing.

But they do have their uses. Let’s say you are collaborating with a supplier halfway around the world in the design and development of a new part. If it requires regular review of a physical part, and getting that part on a regular basis requires global expedited shipments that cost hundreds of dollars a shipment and take up to a week to arrive, then the organization will be spending thousands of dollars on shipments and losing weeks, if not months, of production time while it waits for a part to arrive.

But with 3-D printing, an almost exact replica of the part, down to at least 2mm, even if it’s a metal part, can be printed locally from the CAD/CAM design files. And this can be done for a few dollars in a few hours. This is a significant contribution to the NPD process. And a considerable change to direct sourcing as life-cycles, and costs, can be considerably compressed and quality improved before the first part is delivered.

This simple change alone is significant, and we don’t need to wait for the future to get results. As long as we go in with an understanding of what those results will be.

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