Print a house? It’s no joke for the supply chain

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The first thought is that the headline must be a joke: “Giant 3D printer creates ten full sized houses in a day”.

But apparently not. The story appeared in both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail and is very clear. The houses were created in China from waste materials using four printers measuring 105 feet long, 33 feet wide and 22 feet tall.

We tend to assume that 3D printing is for very small things and is very expensive. On that basis these houses must cost a fortune. Again, apparently not. The houses are reported to have cost less than £3,000.

There has been some discussion about the impact of 3D printing on the supply chain. The technology has been around for 30 years but it’s only in the past few years that costs have come down to a point where they are starting to become practical tools.

Even so, they have only really been used for prototyping and other specialist operations. But, as the house story shows, 3D printers are rapidly moving into new low cost areas.

Before long they could become common in some areas of manufacturing and product customisation. For example, Nokia has released design files that will allow owners to use 3D printer to make their own cases for its Lumia phones. Fashion designers have also been experimenting with 3D printing.

And there is the opportunity to eliminate stocks of components that can easily be printed to order – which could have a significant impact on “long tail” inventory.

It has also been suggested that suppliers could installed 3D printers in customers’ premises enabling them to print off products as required rather than having them delivered from stock.

It’s clear that 3D printing will have a massive impact on some areas of supply chain – and probably sooner than we all thought.

Malory Davies


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