Rapid Prototyping is Changing the Supply Chain
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It's no doubt that 3D printing and additive manufacturing are some of the most exciting technologies in the past decade. But as rife with much as the hobbyist and household applications are already, the most significant potential of additive manufacturing lies behind the outstanding scenes in each supply chain.

Experts assert that rapid prototyping can potentially remake the entire manufacturing and product handling process. This is because the approach can help bring about professionally-designed products quicker than ever. Keep in mind that rapid prototyping is more than just 3D printing. The concept can be helpful even when working with different materials to suit manufacturers and eventually transform the work environment for your employees.

So, how is the rapid prototyping changing the supply chain? Here is everything you need to know.

A shorter product design pipeline

Generally, 3D printing isn't new tech. This concept and many types of additive manufacturing have been known for the past few decades. But these methods became cost-effective enough to be implemented in recent years.  That means the manufacturing industry is just beginning to reap the benefits of the rapid prototyping approach.  

This approach's proximate benefit comes from shifting prototyping in-house and outsourcing this function to a third party. That means that the pipeline between product design and the end product that you can handle is getting shorter. Rapid prototyping is a huge time-saver for manufacturers. Besides, it allows product designers to test numerous products variations simultaneously.

Of particular interest, in this case, is any product family intended for human health or other categories that are of a time-sensitive nature. You have probably seen the encouraging results in the healthcare industry. The rapid prototyping approach has successfully shortened the period required to connect healthcare facilities or patients and potentially life-saving healthcare devices and instruments.

These far-reaching applications and implications point to one thing - rapid prototyping can be implemented with different materials. It can yield parts within five weeks, depending on the geometry involved and the preferred casting method.

In addition to 3D printing, other options could help explore new materials and build methods. You can then try the prototypes in different real-life scenarios. These include plaster mold prototyping, CNC machining, die-casting, gravity casting, and more.

Development of Smart packaging for better shelf appeal and transportation

Studies show that rapid prototyping can be easily leveraged to develop better packaging, just like it is used in the product design and manufacturing process. PLA, polycarbonate, and ABS are some of the common ingredients in today's product packaging. These thermoplastics can be rapidly prototyped to develop practical and functional packages long before the end product is slated to ship out.

This benefit of rapid prototyping stretches from end to end of the supply chain. Consider the benefits of rolling out several packaging variants within a short period. You can easily address various aspects of product packaging and transportation.

 For instance, how will the packaging stack in trucks or even shipping cartons? Are your packaging options designed for the end consumer or wholesalers and retailers need to break the packaging to successfully showcase the products to the end consumers?

One of the top benefits of rapid prototyping is that it improves the response time to details regarding packaging variations and even product design. Indeed, this approach can help ensure some mundane concern you didn't iron out will not snarl up your supply chain. All these benefits point to less business risk and lower chances of unnecessary rework for your workforce.

Reduces physical inventory and facilitates the development of custom products

Sometimes, demand and supply can be quite fickle. Yet, each step of the supply chain is at the mercy of these two aspects of the consumer market. The traditional manufacturing process involved creating abundant products and waiting for the demand to catch up. Thanks to rapid prototyping, this process has become easier and shorter.

Some of the rapid prototyping options like 3D printing and die-casting are economically feasible. Also, they are more likely to require smaller warehouse spaces and product staging sections in the future. Most businesses are exploring the concept of virtual inventory, something that is catching up quickly in both the manufacturing and shipping sectors.

This might sound far-fetched, but it's not. This is another benefit you should know. It is one that various players in the supply chain are likely to explore. As long as they are getting used to supplying salable items on-demand, the chances are that they will be in a position to offer more customized products as well.

For example, Fast Radius and UPS recently announced a relationship that will see both companies collaborate on both printing and shipping custom and short-run products. The partnership is intended to reduce delays in any step of the supply chain.

Implementing rapid prototyping in the supply chain means this technique is applied in all relevant aspects of the manufacturing process. The efficiency associated with it means a far more extensive client base. Think about being in a position to provide bespoke alterations to your main products. This would have been very expensive several decades ago.

Thanks to the rapid prototyping approach, any company's product lines across the different industries are more exciting dynamic. The implications of this level of customization and collaboration are huge. Today, businesses can scale up the production of a variety of different products in the same product line without having to invest heavily.  

Wrap up

Rapid prototyping is associated with so much potential. Probably the world is beginning to see its benefits. This article has mentioned a few ways this technology is transforming the supply chain and making the manufacturing world more flexible, agile, and more consumer-friendly than ever before.

Today, manufacturers can guarantee better products for the end-users within the shortest time possible. Besides, shareholders can enjoy higher profitability as companies continue to implement cost-effective production techniques such as rapid prototyping. The efficiency associated with this approach to manufacturing and supply chain can transform your business. Surprisingly, the world is just getting started.

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