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3D printing has been getting a lot of traction lately. People are realizing the benefits of having a part printed rather than using a traditional machine shop. What many people don’t realize is how 3D printing is changing the supply chain. In this piece, we’ll get into detail about how this new manufacturing style is disrupting the traditional supply chain.

How Are 3D Printed Parts Transported?

Transporting 3D printed parts all depends on the size, material, and weight of the part. In a lot of cases, parts are shipped in a standard box with bubble wrap on the interior. For delicate, large, or specialty parts, the manufacturer might put together a custom crate to ship the item.

They can be sent out via car, truck, plane, or boat to get to their final destination.

The Cost of Shipping

The cost of shipping depends on the part being shipped. It’s typically no more expensive than shipping out a Christmas gift to a family member.

The Benefit of Local Orders

If you order locally from a 3D printing company, there’s even an opportunity to pick up a part or enjoy local delivery. In either of these cases, you’ll get your part quicker and pay less overall for shipping.

5 Steps of a Traditional Supply Chain

You can break down the traditional supply chain model into five segments. When we say “traditional,” we mean a part that was manufactured in a machine shop, injection molder, factory, or something along those lines. Keep in mind, this has to do with commercial manufacturing.

1. Source

The company will work with multiple suppliers to source all the parts needed for manufacturing.

2. Make

Now the manufacturer can start making the part. In most cases, production is done off-shore to minimize the costs.

3. Deliver

The product will get delivered from the off-shore contact to the headquarters in the States for a quality check. From there, the product gets delivered to a retail store.

4. Retail

Now the manufactured item goes through the retailer’s line of logistics from a warehouse to a loading location to the shelves.

5. Consumer

The final segment includes the consumer purchasing the item and bringing it home.

3D Printing Supply Chain

The 3D printing supply chain structure really consists of two parts: the manufacturer and the consumer.

1. Manufacturer

In-house, a manufacturer will source, design, and create a part. In most cases, parts are stored and shipped out on site.

2. Consumer

After the part is made, it’s sold and shipped direct-to-consumer. 

3D printer

7 Supply Chain Differences Between 3D Printing and Traditional Manufacturing

The difference should be pretty immediate as you look through the two options. 3D printing expedites the process and removes huge chunks within the supply chain. The not-so-obvious parts deserve an explanation – take a look.

1. Project Management

In traditional manufacturing, there’s an overwhelming need for a competent project manager. There are so many moving parts, a number of vendors, and sources from across the globe. Without thorough planning and management, the product will run into some big problems.

In the world of 3D printing, the need for a project manager is less serious. In fact, the project manager could wear different hats and perform multiple duties since the management portion is so minimal.

2. Complexity

The 3D printing supply chain couldn’t be any easier: there are two steps, after all. If the consumer picks up the product from the 3D printer’s warehouse, then there’s only one step. Over-complexity is one of the biggest disadvantages of the traditional supply chain.

3. Lead Time

Every step of the supply chain process could equate to days or weeks added. This is especially true when you’re talking about overseas manufacturing and finding suppliers in different countries. 

Something that might take months in the traditional supply chain could be done in days with 3D printing. 3D printing has a shorter cycle between design and production, so that leads to a faster time-to-market sequence.

4. Costs

The same is true when you look at the associated costs. We wrote an in-depth piece about the cost-effectiveness of 3D printing, and the verdict is pretty clear here: the 3D printing supply chain is less expensive than the traditional chain. Depending on the product, it could be orders of magnitude less expensive to 3D print.

5. Future Differences

Keep in mind, we can only talk about the differences in today’s time. In the future, we might see an even more streamlined process for 3D printing. On top of that, the prices for US-based manufacturing might raise, causing even more off-shoring. Off-shoring is a surefire way to increase the lead times and add a new level of complexity.

6. Supply and Demand Manufacturing

The other hidden difference between traditional and 3D printing supply chains is the supply and demand aspect. In 3D printing, you’re making a product directly for a consumer. 

This operation means that the demand is being met exactly. There’s no need to stock a warehouse with products. Inventory management has become much easier, and there’s a smaller upfront cost for creating inventory.

With traditional manufacturing, a company will estimate what the demand will be when the production run is done. If demand is higher and the supply runs out, consumers will have to wait for another round of the supply chain.

7. A One-Stop Shop

3D printing creates the ability to run a one-stop shop. Engineers, designers, manufacturers, and logistics experts can all be found in the same office. For smaller operations, they can all be the same person. Of course, traditional manufacturing can’t offer the same. 

3D Printing Supply Chains in Different Industries

3D printing is a borderline universal manufacturing solution. It can serve a multitude of different industries.


The aerospace industry relies a lot on sourcing high-quality materials. A manufacturer can go through dozens of vendors before finding a quality that’s up to their standards. Naturally, this industry doesn’t have a lot of room for error, especially when it comes to the material of construction.

Comparatively, 3D printed material is a lot easier to source, acquire, and test. 3D printing offers significant time saving before production even begins.


In the automotive world, there’s a lot of competition. In order to stay competitive, manufacturers need to roll out the newest ideas, the lowest prices, and the most reliable designs. 3D printing makes light work of all three of these topics thanks to its supply chain. A 3D printer offers:

  • Rapid prototyping and ease of iterative designs
  • One of the lowest costs for small-batch manufacturing runs
  • An ability for intricate details to improve reliability

Medical & Healthcare

Users of medical devices need their products quickly and affordably. The simplicity and cost-savings associated with the 3D printing supply chain can help in both of these categories. 


At the same time, the construction industry needs robust and reliable products. In many cases, projects can’t afford to wait months for deliveries. 3D printing allows a manufacturer to find the highest-quality material that can hold up to the demands. They can deliver products quickly and provide additional products much faster than traditional manufacturing.

Pros and Cons of the 3D Printing Supply Chain

We’ve already covered most of the positive and negative effects of 3D printing and its unique supply chain. Here’s a list of the pros and cons so you can see just how transformative this manufacturing process is.


  • Lower cost
  • Faster turnarounds
  • Quicker product lifecycle (from concept to final production)
  • Ability for rapid prototyping and iterative designs
  • Everything can be done in one facility
  • More simplified project management
  • Lower overhead
  • Fewer moving parts due to a simple and streamlined process
  • Easy inventory management


  • Hard to find a capable 3D printing manufacturing company
  • Comes with a learning curve as a customer
  • Requires parts to be designed for 3D printing
  • Difficult to mass-produce products affordably or quickly

Learning More About 3D Printing Supply Chains

The supply chain is just one of many ways that 3D printing is changing how we view manufacturing. At 3D Printed Parts, our team of professionals is here to answer your questions and show you how these changes can aid in your operation. 

Enjoy faster turnarounds, lower prices, and quality prototyping with 3D printing. You can learn more by contacting us today. Fill out an analysis of your needs to see how we can help you.