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Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, is being regarded as the third industrial revolution. It is a technology that enables products to be manufactured whole, layer by layer, from different materials. Developments are progressing rapidly and will drastically affect manufacturing practice. Transport and logistics will also feel the impact. TNO undertook a study.
3D printing is steadily making its mark. Within a few years a billion-euro market has emerged, one that is growing exponentially and is expected to be valued at five to ten billion euros in five or so years' time. Different industrial concerns have themselves begun to make components using 3D printers and increasing numbers of start-ups are making 3D printers or are servicing them. Thousands of consumers already have such a printer at home, albeit the simplest model, which they use to make jewels, clothes or dinnerware. 'TNO got into this development very early on,' says Maarten Oonk, market manager for Logistics. 'We had the first 3D printer in the Netherlands in the early 1990s and started experimenting with it. Much of the technology we developed can still be found in countless 3D printers. And we have taken the development further in cooperation with SMEs. We are currently working with industry on printing food.'
Many products people use in their day-to-day lives come from 3D printers, even though the consumer may not realise it. Dental elements like bridges and crowns, hearing aids, artificial hips. The number of applications is endless. We are heading for a situation whereby 3D printers will be available at a whole number of spots ready to rapidly churn out large numbers of personalised products upon request. 'That will have a major impact on how goods are distributed in the future. We are used to raw materials being transported to a factory that then makes semi-finished and finished products that are transported in containers by sea, rail, road or canal to distribution centres and then into stores. But if you can get a variety of products manufactured nearby using 3D printers, then there will be all kinds of significant shifts in transport. Is there any point in a company having a warehouse containing spare parts if they can print them directly themselves?'
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