3D printers have become more affordable and today a relatively modest investment in a 3D printer could save certain businessses thousands in stock and transportation costs.
Say you run a small business – a plumbing shop, for example – which requires you to purchase and stock a wide variety of pipes and spare parts. What if you could manufacture those items yourself, on demand, instead of buying and storing them in your shop?
Though the idea sounds far-fetched, some believe that 3D printers could allow many businesses to significantly reduce costs associated with stock purchasing and transportation. Nearly everything from replacement teeth to aeronautic parts can now be reproduced in almost any material imaginable by 3D printers.
In a recent paper examining 3D printing’s potential impact on global logistics, research organisation Transport Intelligence says it could become “the biggest single disruptive phenomenon to hit the global economy since assembly lines were introduced in early 20th century America”.
3D printers could also work for wholesalers, distributors and even consumers. Instead of ordering consumables – such as mobile phone cases or toys – manufactured in Asia and shipped over, you could download digital models of the product you want from the Internet and “print” it yourself.
With 3D printers currently retailing for as little as £300, the incentive for widespread use is increasing. And if 3D printing eventually takes off, then such devices may become as common as phone systems or water coolers in many small tradesman shops.