3D printing: a risky business for manufacturing supply chains?
Additive manufacturing is creating exciting new possibilities for manufacturers. But how can you protect your business from the new risks that come with this?
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is rapidly changing the face of manufacturing supply chains. Sales of 3D printers and related materials, services, and software soared to US$1bn in 2015 and will surpass US$30bn by 2022.1 Manufacturing executives already understand how 3D printing is revolutionizing their own operations and will change the face of the industry as new applications and 3D materials emerge daily. Yet for all its promise, 3D printing also creates risk by radically disrupting supply chains the world over.
Supply chain changes and their risks
Just as welding technologies gradually replaced blacksmithing, 3D printing will gradually replace current metallurgy techniques. Manufacturers will rapidly become less dependent on traditional production processes, and production facilities and incorporated supply chains will be redesigned to blend 3D printing with traditional processes. Executives will either turn to suppliers around the globe with 3D-printing expertise or develop internal talent.
Products and components can be copied by anyone with a digital file, posing serious new risks, particularly as cybercriminals can hack into databases across borders. Indeed, some experts believe that by 2018, 3D printing may result in the loss of $100bn annually in intellectual property (IP) rights.2
Fortunately, patent and copyright laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), protect products and the digital files used to create them, allowing companies to seek damages when IP designs are unlawfully shared or counterfeits are illegally marketed. However, they require deep pockets and resources to find and eliminate copycats. Savvy companies are preventing infringement by drafting strong supplier agreements that protect IP rights and require minimum-security thresholds. These firms also incorporate quality and compliance specifications that make it difficult to print inexpensive knockoffs.
Assess your company’s future
A rigorous additive manufacturing assessment will gauge the potential of 3D printing to reinvent your company and its supply chains and identify hidden risks. You can then develop a plan to test 3D ideas with modest investment before committing to a full 3D future.
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1Scott Grunewald, “Research and Markets Predicts Global 3D Printing Market to Reach $30 Billion by 2022,” 3Dprint.com, April 24, 2016; citing 3D Printing Market by Printer Type, Material Type (Metals, Plastics, Ceramics & Others), Material Form (Powder, Liquid, Filament), Process, Technology, Software, Service, Application, Vertical and Geography – Global Forecast to 2022, Research and Markets, April 2016.
2“Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2014 and Beyond,” Gartner, 2013.