3-D printing changing business operations

For several years, 3-D printing has been generating a wave of interest and publicity, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the manufacturing industry. As businesses are continually looking for ways to reduce costs and technology continues to advance, this trend may grow even further and have an impact on firms besides manufacturing companies.

The process took the world by storm in recent weeks, after NASA employed 3-D printing to create a rocket engine component. During a recent test, the engine's injector generated 20,000 pounds of thrust, a number NBC News reported was 10 times more than any printed injector had ever produced before. This was a significant test for NASA, as well as the printing industry, and the injector passed with flying colors. With the news surrounding the trial, it's likely interest in 3-D printing will only continue to rise.

What is 3-D printing and why is it a important?
Traditional manufacturing calls for machines or people to make parts and then assemble them within a factory. 3-D printing, on the other hand, makes an entire object from a digital plan by laying down extremely thin layers of a base material. It's also known as "additive manufacturing" because additional layers are layered to complete a product, rather than the traditional "subtractive" process that calls for a material to be drilled, cut or machined apart until it meets size or shape specifications.

The market for 3-D printing has been growing fast, but unlike most trends, the demand isn't expected to diminish any time soon - in fact, many anticipate it will continue to grow significantly in the coming years for a variety of reasons. Cost effectiveness is one factor. The expenses associated with this method of manufacturing are lower than traditional factories, which allows a company to save more, and a factory full of printers doesn't require a business to pay dozens - if not hundreds - of employees to produce items.

Quick turnaround and better inventory oversight are also making 3-D printing create a splash in the industry - because the items can be made quickly, businesses no longer need to guess how much of an item is necessary and risk overproducing, and thus losing money in the long run. Rather, they can determine demand and print items as orders come in. This allows companies to keep lower inventory levels on hand, but also has an impact on the transportation industry.

Transportation industry gearing up for more 3-D printing
Businesses that determine it's in their best interests to lower inventory levels and restock quickly when supplies are low will need to change up their current procurement processes. While they may have previously received large shipments from carriers once a month, they may now request smaller shipments more frequently. As a result, transportation companies will need to be ready to comply with these changing demands.

By using route optimization software, carriers can ensure they are making the best use of available resources and ready to meet the requests of purchasers. When drivers are making more stops and delivering less product, they must be certain they are on the most direct route and able to make pickups and deliveries on schedule, or the companies that rely on them may find themselves out of certain products. Those that fail to use route planning software may struggle to determine which runs are most effective and which drivers can carry additional cargo, factors that may hinder a company's ability to perform when its clients want more frequent deliveries.