When thinking about the future of mobility, manufacturing isn't an industry that immediately jumps to mind for most people.
It's not easy to introduce mobility and flexibility into manufacturing, as the industry is constrained by legacy machinery and business processes, as well as resistance to change in management. Often this can be traced to the large capital investment it takes to alter an existing manufacturing process.
But disruptive technologies in 3D printing and on-demand manufacturing — coupled with high-tech innovations in shipping and storage — are poised to change that. RocketSpace's 2017 Disruption Report predicts that these disruptive technologies will be a key trend to watch in the manufacturing sector this year.
3D Printing Brings On-demand Manufacturing to Life
On-demand manufacturing is expected to be one of the hottest investment areas of the next five years, with PricewaterhouseCoopers predicting more than $907 billion of funding globally during that timeframe.
By using advances in 3D printing and cloud management systems, on-demand manufacturing can fulfill orders of any size. Rather than an assembly line of shift workers constantly at work on large product orders that are then stacked in warehouses for shipping, on-demand manufacturing offers scalable processes to complete customized orders based on real-time data.
This kind of flexibility is invaluable to small businesses and startups, but also works just as efficiently for large corporations. With 3D printing, companies can employ the additive manufacturing model and print products on demand with cheap, easy-to-operate machines. Traditional factories have to charge prohibitive rates to manufacture small quantities of products because of their significant overheads, but a room of 3D printers can make small orders at a much lower cost.
Where a company is dealing with fluctuating orders — for example, due to seasonality — they can negate the risks of forecasting and inventory management by waiting for the orders to roll in and only producing what's been ordered. These benefits will make 3D printing the largest sector in on-demand manufacturing, with predictions that it will grow to $21.2 billion by 2020.
Startups are taking note of the trend. For example, MakeXYZ is an online marketplace that connects users with a network of 3D printers, engineers and designers from around the world. This network helps the startup deliver design turnarounds in less than a week.
The Airbnbs and Ubers of Shipping and Storage
Every part of the manufacturing process can be made flexible and scalable. FLEXE is a startup that's known as the "Airbnb for warehouses" because it provides on-demand warehousing by connecting the firms looking for space with companies that have empty shelves in their distribution centers.
Meanwhile, Shyp is being called “the Uber of shipping" because it allows users to have packages picked up from any location and then delivered to any destination. Shyp also offers pre-shipment packing services so small businesses can simply hand off items to Shyp couriers and have them wrapped and delivered — often within 20 minutes of requesting shipment.
These startups are disrupting the traditional models of manufacturing, warehousing and shipping in the same way that startups have disrupted so many industries — by connecting people who have a good or service to offer with those who need that good or service right now but don't want to sign an ongoing contract.
In the manufacturing sector, these changes hold vast appeal for both small and large companies. Real-time pricing based on supply and demand — coupled with the ability to mitigate against inventory forecasting errors — can maximize profitability for manufacturers.
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