The present and future world will not be like the past. We are witnessing the transition of a new era, from passive consumers to empowered digital customers. Worldwide globalisation and the technology of information and telecommunications have created the digital user, and what is known as the digital transformation of society.
This new era has had a huge impact on logistics. We have moved from traditional supply chains, from simple physical distribution based on the transport and storage of products (in the fifties) to the fully digitised management of the supply chain: connected online/real time, automated and intelligent/autonomous. A reliable, flexible and sustainable supply chain to respond to that empowered user.
In the digital age, with this new logistics system, one cannot separate physical flows from logical ones, or from information. In the third industrial revolution, which we are now leaving, information systems had a supporting role; they were tools that helped to manage the factory's throughput more efficiently. In the fourth revolution the physical and logical flows merge because of this new digital era, and this will completely transform the entire industry.
Today, it is as important for consumers to have the product delivered within 24 hours as it is to know that it will be 100% as advertised when they decide to buy it online. Paying a reasonable price is as important as being able to check online that the product is in stock.
3D printing has existed for 25 years, but has barely evolved in the last two decades. Now, and thanks to this digital transformation of society, technologies are being developed that will overcome the three main obstacles that have prevented the large-scale expansion of 3D printing: speed, quality and cost.
Imagine a world in which we can print prostheses adapted to the shape of the patient's morphology, or hearing aids to the shape of the ear, or sports shoes designed specifically for each foot. Imagine being able to print spare parts for our cars, instead of waiting for them to arrive from warehouses or making them thousands of miles away...
For this reason, sectors such as aeronautics were some of the first to introduce 3D printing: think how much fuel can be saved thanks to lighter and more efficient parts, with organic designs. Short series, production closer to demand, free geometric shapes, customisation... All these advantages will revolutionise many sectors.
They will revolutionise many sectors and impact traditional supply chains; we will manufacture locally, and traditional manufacturing processes and their logistic chains will change. Whatever is needed will be manufactured at the time when it is required, and it will be customised for the customer/specific need.
It will mean great savings in transport, customs and taxes, in addition to the obvious time and cost benefits. All of this growth will impact locally on GDP as an economic catalyst, and will also have a transformative effect; for example, it is foreseeable and already apparent that this growth in 3D printing will reduce long-distance international transport for finished products, and will speed up 'last mile' transport.
3D printing makes it possible to produce short runs without increasing costs, as moulds
are no longer needed. Companies will be able to build prototypes in real time, and
innovative processes will require much less time. As a result, production batches will be more tailored to actual customer demand, and will be closer in terms of location. In other words, design will be centralised, but production will be distributed throughout printing centres close to the final destination of the product. Supply chains will be transformed and companies will be able to take advantage of cost reduction in logistics, while improving their capital.
It will be 3D printing that offers some of the answers to this new empowered digital customer, providing personalised products with a high level of immediacy.
Certainly, today 3D printing needs to achieve greater scalability in order to be able to cover much longer series, with a view to aligning manufacturing processes with the current ones; it will undeniably meet the needs of the new 4.0 consumer to obtain custom products for every occasion, and in a much more immediate way.
In addition, this new supply chain is more sustainable, optimising product life cycles, and goes beyond the concept of linear production: raw materials are extracted to manufacture products that are then used and eliminated, thus enhancing the concept of the circular economy which is based on the idea of sustainable production of goods and services, whilst reducing the consumption and waste of raw materials, water and energy sources.
This is why Transcoma Grupo Empresarial (Transcoma Business Group) wants to be present in this new stage or paradigm, demonstrating all its know-how in operations, from origin to end customer, knowing that future supply chains will be different from the current ones.