•  3D Printing is offering agile manufactoring solutions in the current pandemic
  • Long term 3D printing may become more ‘mainstream’ leading to more varied and flexible supply chains
  • Two European countries look set to capitalise

 

The breakdown of supply chains as a result of COVID19 lockdown measures has meant that many businesses are struggling to stay afloat. In cases like medical equipment it means that despite the increased demand there are simply no suppliers. As a result, we are seeing innovative ways of adapting and plugging holes in supply.

3D printing is having a moment in the sun. Its high flexibility is allowing for it to be utilised to fill supply gaps without highly specialised equipment. The speed at which you can manufacture is also a bonus and something that has been previously exploited by Formula 1 teams, where it is critical to be able to design and manufacture parts in the short turnaround between grand prix, typically 2 weeks. It is one of the reasons that they have been able to help in making ventilators during this crisis. Furthermore, we’ve seen hospitals produce swabs  and a variety of PPE is being made across the globe  outside of the typical supply chains.

It is feasible that after the pandemic is over, we may see the continued use of 3D printers in this space and beyond as a means of on-demand production. However traditional supply chains still have a role to play. The common string throughout is plastic, specifically Polylactic Acid (PLA). For lack of a better term, it is the ‘ink’ in the printer. It is also used in consumer displays, envelope windows, yogurt pots, bottled water and so on, therefore fairly common.

However, if we cross reference PLA with the nozzles used in 3D printers, we can see with a degree of accuracy where in the world is the biggest 3D printing capacity for plastics.

Figure 1: Polylactic Acid
Figure 2: 3D Printer nozzles

We can see that outside of the USA, Netherlands, Germany and China appear on both lists. The Netherlands with an even distribution of both imports and exports in both categories.

Here are the imports trends for these three countries:

Figure 3: PLA imports for Netherlands, Germany and China
Figure 4: Imports of nozzles for Netherlands, Germany and Chin

Here we can see that both the Netherlands, according to our forecasts, are set to slightly increase their imports of nozzles, while all three countries follow a similar trend in the imports of PLA. In a post COVID world, where there may be a role for rapid decentralised manufacturing of plastic goods in rebuilding supply chains both the Netherlands and Germany are well positioned.