January 03, 2017

There are many innovations and societal changes such as robotics, autonomous vehicles, and the sharing economy that could shape the future of supply chains. But none of these developments is likely to transform the way manufacturing and supply chains are managed more than additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing.

While the concept of additive manufacturing is not new, the technology has become good enough that it is starting to be applied at scale.

To understand the technology, imagine a printer that instead of using ink, spews a building material – be it polymers, ceramics, cement or metal. The printer head moves according to a digital plan, laying out a thin layer of material on top of other layers, until a fully formed object immerges. And like color printers which take the right color ink based on digital instructions, 3D printers can build items that include more than a single material.

The MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (MIT CTL) will review the future evolution of 3D printing at our annual conference, Crossroads, April 4, 2017.

This technology, once developed further, likely signals, for many products, the end of mass production -- the engine that underpinned the industrial revolution and that has enabled billions of people to afford a multitude of goods. Mass production means that identical items produced by the millions can be acquired by millions of people at a very low cost. 3D printing is a true disruptive technology in that it upends the economics of mass production. The technology is characterized by the following attributes:

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