3D printing, intelligent robotics, and open source hardware are three emerging technologies that stand to revolutionize modern-day manufacturing. These disruptive forces will usher in a new manufacturing paradigm that is managed by software and data files – something we call the “software-defined supply chain.”
For more than a year, my colleagues and I have been carefully studying the likely impact and implications of these technologies. We wanted to see if these new technologies could alleviate many of the constraints and the fixed costs of a traditional supply chain, and if so, to what extent? To verify this, we built an integrated supply chain model and then tore apart a series of electronics items – including a mobile phone, a hearing aid, a washing machine, and an industrial display.
In each case, we wanted to know if we could make that product in a new software- defined supply chain model and, if so, what would the economics look like, in the present, as well as in the coming decade, and see if we could forecast the cost and capability path of these technologies.
While we found that a software-defined supply chain model quickly becomes cheaper to operate, that alone was not the most impactful finding. Instead, it was the vast reduction in scale that it enables. On average, by the end of our forecast period, we determined that our products, when made in a software-defined supply chain model, would be 23 percent cheaper, on average, than they are now in traditional manufacturing. Even more importantly, the scale required to achieve a cost-effective result was up to 90 percent lower.
What an interesting time for makers, IBM, talking about “3D printing, intelligent robotics, and open source hardware”.