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How 3D Printing Is Giving Fashion’s Supply Chain A Positive Spin

We have all heard of 3D Printing technology. First introduced nearly 30 years ago, the cost-effective manufacturing process has in the last few years undergone rapid advancements that have positively shaken up various sectors around the globe. The good news is that 3D Printing has made the kind of consistent progress that could potentially revolutionize the production and supply chain process of fashion businesses. Deemed a game-changer for the manufacturing industry, can fashion companies, in this challenging time, afford to ignore this technology?

3D Printing’s Potential Impact on the Supply Chain 

As the epidemic continues, more fashion companies are looking into transforming their supply chains so they can survive the current disruptions. They know that by making fundamental changes in their supply chains and reviewing current working methods, they can implement new tools and technologies that will keep them going. One of those solutions is 3D Printing. By increasing their reliance on 3D Printing “additive manufacturing allows supply chains the flexibility to scale inventory at will,” believes Hollingsworthllc.com. This means that fashion brands will be able to send an order straight to the 3D printer and produce it on the spot.

Taking ‘Just-in-Time’ manufacturing to a new level, 3D Printing processes help create three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.  The technology offers the potential to develop products quicker and uses additive processes to make an object. By laying down successive layers of material until the product gets built. On the technology, the Global Supply Chain Institute’s white paper, New Supply Chain Technology Best Practices, stated, “Some supply chain professionals predict 3D printing will eventually rival the impact of Henry Ford’s assembly line.”  So does this mean that 3D Printing is a great solution for the multiple supply chains being interrupted by the global crisis? 

3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has the potential to play a vital role in the fundamental shift in helping fashion businesses stay competitive in what is turning out to be an uncertain marketplace. Fashion companies that have been willing to take advantage of 3D Printing’s potential have been reducing complexity and improving time-to-market by consolidating the number of components and processes required for manufacturing. 

As the fear of Coronavirus increases, more fashion companies are looking into transforming their supply chains by increasing their reliance on 3D Printing. Investing in the “revolutionary sewing machine”, allows for fashion companies to explore on-demand production while focusing on sustainability. “Manufacturers that use 3D printers can choose among various sustainable, recyclable and environmentally friendly solutions,” states 3dprint.com in an article.

Revolutionizing the production and supply chain process, 3D Printing takes the traditional Supply Chain Operations Reference (SCOR) model, which is based on a plan, source, make, deliver and return, and brings tomorrow’s technology to today. In comparison, the 3D printing model has the potential to make a significant impact on the global supply chains, which includes decreasing complexities, saving on production costs, enhancing lead times and improving time-to-market.

Manufacturing into a New Era

As many fashion businesses feel the pressure to move away from mass production, 3D Printing offers the option to use the technology to manufacture products to their customer’s specific requirements. This could mean that companies will be able to enhance the consumer experience by allowing them to be part of the design and production process. Also, the ‘greener,’ more energy-efficient and cost-efficient production method is known for creating almost zero waste, lowers the risk of overproduction and excess inventory and reduces the carbon footprint. 

Although the technology is considered to be still in its infancy, the global 3D-printing market is predicted to reach $41,587.1B by 2027. With the potential to re-engineer the fashion industry’s supply chain, there are experts out there who think that investments in 3D Printing are not the way forward for the fashion industry. Richard A. D’Aveni contributor at Forbes believes that panic and politics are strange bedfellows. “If the epidemic is short term and fairly well contained, or if we get an effective vaccine soon, then the impact on additive manufacturing will be minimal,” explained D’Aveni in his Forbes article that explores the adoption of 3D printing during the COVID-19 crisis.

Adding: “Most of the manufacturing economy, especially coming out of China, involves mass-produced goods.  Additive [manufacturing] is still not economical for quantities of over 500,000. China’s factories would have to shut down and cause major shortages before U.S. manufacturers resorted to large-scale 3D Printing.”

Even though D’Aveni makes a point in his write-up, there have been significant advances in 3D Printing that could, in the long run, benefit the fashion industry’s supply chain and operations. If you were to zoom in, 3D printing could also be a short term solution during the pandemic by helping maintain continuity. Lastly, although investing in this type of technology does not guarantee success, adopting 3D Printing could mean that fashion businesses no longer have to be dependent on external suppliers,  which is a significant advantage to have in this current climate. 

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Written by Muchaneta Kapfunde

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