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Aug.24, 2015

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SUPPLY CHAIN LINKS THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE 45 Jerry Peck 3D OR NOT 3D? THAT'S THE QUESTION I WROTE MY first column on the topic of additive manufacturing, better known as "3D Printing," two years ago as industry analysts were heralding its envisioned impact on manufacturing as nothing short of the next industrial revolution. With the buzz swirling, I elected to dedi- cate an annual column on the subject to track its progress and report on any newsworthy developments. For instance, the California State Transportation Agency felt the impact from 3D printing was so large and so imminent that the CSTA included it in its 2014 California State Mobility Plan, in which it wrote: "By shaving weeks off manufacturing times and at-home production, this technology may reverse the trend of low-cost global manufacturing outsourcing … posing a threat to the global transportation industry." The plan concluded that the resulting impact to transportation could be a potential "increase in local deliveries with smaller commercial vehicles." So what happened to manufac- turers' predictions that they'd be making their own widgets on site, and of the dramatic sea change that this would have on interna - tional supply chains? Where are the boatloads of consumer-grade printers that were expected to flood retail shelves? Where is my NASA- inspired "pizza printer?" The answer to each of these que s t ion s wou ld s e em to b e grounded in the same key require- ments that were identified from the beginning: predominately, necessary advances in the technology itself, including hardware and related pro- cesses, as well as an expanded range of printing materials. Starting with the consumer market, I'm still waiting for that TV commercial that will offer a com- pelling 3D printer solution for some problem I didn't know I had — and all for just three easy payments of $39.95. That alone tells me that the necessary user-friendly technology isn't here yet (think Kuerig coffee maker-simplic- ity) or that no one can find the value proposition for printing a replace- ment collar button versus buying one. For indust ria l-g rade users, the newness of the technolog y combined with costs for printers, software and trained technicians, plus overcoming internal pushback to change, all could be factors keep- ing many companies from becoming self-printers. To that end, an alter- native option that appears to be getting some solid traction is one of outsourcing where specialty compa- nies offer a broad range of printing and consulting services. One particularly interesting example is CloudDDM, which boasts one of the fastest turnaround times in the market because of two key differ- entiators: The first is Direct Digital Manufacturing, or DDM, which the company says is taking additive manufacturing to the next level via a nearly total automated process — from receiving the customer's digital model, through production and on to packaging and delivery. The second is CloudDDM's unique relationship with UPS Sup- ply Chain Solutions, which has taken a minority stake in the company via the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund — a venture capital program that identifies and develops criti- cal partnerships. As such, not only is CloudDDM's automated process tied into UPS's shipment system, but it's also located its manufactur- ing facility just off the runway at UPS's Worldport hub in Louisville, Kentucky, a strategic combination that provides a competitive advan- tage in delivery responsiveness. It's important to note that to achieve the high operational scale t hat CloudDDM env isions, its customer-base will need to be com- panies that already are familiar with the additive manufacturing process, and whose products can be printed from a small selection of thermo- plastic resins. So what about other types of products? This brings us to the material side of the equation. 3D printing would seem to be limited only by the supply of avail- able material, as well as the ability to develop new materials in a printer- usable form for the applicable type of printing process (laser sintering/ melting, fused deposition modeling, etc.). In addition to plastics, materi- als include silver, gold, ceramics, wax, biocompatible material and even living cells. With regard to the latter, recent advances in printing blocks of living tissue to contain a network of vascu- lar channels — which allows tissue to grow just as it would in the body — holds the potential of one day actu- ally printing complete organs. I was surprised to learn that much of the initial technology asso- ciated with additive manufacturing was actually developed in the 1980s, which, in comparison, makes the advances of the past two years seem to be at breakneck speed. On that note, I can't wait to see what I'll be writing about next August. JOC Jerry Peck is a global trade management professional with more than 30 years of experience in regulatory trade compliance and GTM optimization solutions. Contact him at 469-235-5229, or at

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