3D printing 'turning supply chains into supply ecosystems'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
13 August 2014

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13 August 2014 | Will Green

The technology of 3D printing and other developments are turning supply chains into “supply ecosystems”, according to academic research.

Russell Crook, a management professor at the University of Tennessee, argued interactions in supply chains mirror biological ecosystems where plants and animals compete for scarce resources such as water.

In an upcoming article to be published in the Journal of Business Logistics, co-authored with David Ketchen of Auburn University and Christopher Craighead of Pennsylvania State University, Crook said firms within such ecosystems were interdependent on each other but compete for profits.

There is also competition between ecosystems, such as between Airbus and Boeing for example, which means ecosystems must create value in themselves by pooling knowledge and skills, sometimes at the expense of individual firms.

“As a result, many of the complex global supply chain networks that currently exist are likely to be replaced by regionally-based ecosystems whose members work closely together,” said the authors. “In this scenario, an important challenge will be to remain cost-competitive while scaling back on global sourcing.

“Executives will also need to consider disruptive technologies, such as 3D printing and big data, that affect the ecosystem by making economies of scale less relevant and changing the nature of sourcing and other forms of resource support.”

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