The pitfalls of a virtual inventory

posted by Moshe Molcho
15 April 2019

With new frontiers being opened up by technological advances, the opportunities presented by 3D printing are aplenty.

These include possibilities around virtual inventories and on-demand manufacturing – advantages that can deliver cost savings, increased responsiveness and flexibility to customers.

After all, the weak spot in any supply chain is the physical inventory; it’s a burden for companies that pay enormous amounts of money to maintain it.

However, simply moving to virtual inventory and a wider digital supply chain presents certain pitfalls, so there is an even greater need to protect the brand’s digital assets. Sending a printable file creates issues around security of the file itself and IP protection – which can present a direct risk to the brand’s reputation.

Another problem is the threat to the consistency and quality of parts. This could potentially lead to the part being produced in a cheaper material or via an inferior 3D printing technology. This could ruin a company’s reputation. Then there’s the issue of quantity. Once a company moves to a digital inventory, they need to ensure that the files can’t simply be printed multiple times without limits.

Imagine an aerospace company that has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing a crucial final part for an aircraft. What would happen if it was accessed then printed, not only in the wrong material, but also in large numbers? It would be catastrophic.

The good news is that there are forward thinking software as a service (SaaS) solution providers with automatic and seamless mechanisms to address these problems. As a provider of such a solution, ensuring that there is zero change from a procurement or policies perspective is paramount for adoption. The great news is that this is achievable without presenting a headache for the procurement process. Most procurement managers will likely tell you that they don’t mind if a part is produced via 3D printing or injection molding. They just want to be able to order it on their ERP system like any other part.

To scale quantities with 3D printing raises the above issues, but that shouldn’t stop companies from enjoying key benefits like cost savings, increased responsiveness and flexibility to customers. These benefits are achievable while protecting the company’s manufacturing know-how and designs – and ultimately its brand image and reputation.

For companies seeking to deploy trouble-free 3D printing anywhere and at any time, a bit of research into SaaS solutions is time well spent. It can also help the person doing the research to shine in the next presentation to top management, addressing their concerns in an insightful way.

☛ Moshe Molcho is co-founder and CEO of LEO Lane.

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