The trend of 3D Printing, otherwise known as 'additive manufacturing' or 'AM', refers to the production process in which a 3D object is fabricated from a digital model file with physical materials typically being added together or etched layer by layer. 3D printing processes vary greatly, and they can involve a wide range of materials, such as plastics, metals, ceramics, and paper, to influence the strength, durability, accuracy, surface finish, and other attributes of the finished product.
3D printing was initially used for rapid prototyping to accelerate product design processes. With the technology further developing, its adoption and maturity has grown across automotive, medical, and aerospace industries into larger batch sizes as well as a wider variety of objects and materials. The reason for this is the ability to save on the weight of parts, as well as the capability to 3D print complex parts in one piece. Today, products that can be 3D printed range from custom-made climbing shoes and printed dentures to fully 3D-printed wind turbines. Already in 2015 GE Aviation started producing at scale 3D-printed fuel nozzles for aircraft engines. By the time the 100,000th turbine shroud was made from ceramic matrix composite (CMC) using an additive manufacturing process, these items proved to be 25% lighter and 5 times more durable than traditionally produced parts.
The 3D printing landscape has grown in diversity and complexity. As a consequence, the trend has evolved from niche applications to become a widely applicable production technology that we here at DHL expect will grow in adoption in the coming years.
Increase in adoption brings more opportunities for logistics providers, namely growth in the scale and complexity of regional logistics networks capable of supporting print production and of business-to-business (B2B) printing services and delivery. While a world of widespread 3D printing is still in its early stages, there is already a need to supply polymers and raw materials, and here logistics providers must adapt their services.