The manufacturing and logistics model is a well-oiled machine. Traditionally, manufacturers make and store products while logistics companies deliver them using one of the three modalities of transportation: air, water, and ground. But digital manufacturing has unlocked the 4th modality—using the internet and emerging digital technologies to revolutionize the movement of goods around the world.

Instead of focusing solely on physical flows of goods, companies will find that value will also be driven by the digital flow of products. Designs and production specs will be stored in the cloud, accessible to globally networked and strategically located micro-factories that will use additive technologies to manufacture physical products shipped to local customers. In other words, the web becomes the warehouse—creating an elastic manufacturing cloud using additive manufacturing to fabricate industrial parts on-demand at the scale, quality, consistency, and cost required for real parts.

This 4th modality has the power to advance a fundamental paradigm shift and transform the way we live and the way we make almost everything. Additive manufacturing provides us with new and powerful tools to make things we could once only imagine and bring them into the lives of people who will use them.

The lines between manufacturing and logistics are blurring

We are moving from linear supply chains that store excess inventory to agile networks that can quickly respond to consumer demands at the click of a button.

Manufacturers work with logistics companies that have a network of global storage sites. Upgrade these sites to accommodate in-house additive manufacturing, and suddenly you own (and profit from) two critical legs of the supply chain.

Microfactories can shorten the supply chain by iteratively designing products – sometimes after they’re released – and enable on-demand production. If a manufacturing company has access to micro-factories, they will own the means of production and distribution, which can also decrease their import and export costs.

The financial opportunities trump the risks

Changing your business model always requires a certain amount of risk. Those tracking current industry trends, however, know the future belongs to the agile.

Customers now expect their goods delivered on-demand, making local manufacturing and distribution centers crucial. These expectations are about to explode, as emerging markets’ share of global demand is expected to reach 66 percent by 2025. Those willing to invest in additive manufacturing will open new revenue streams and become market heroes.

Make the unmakeable
make the impossible possible

Every company drops “innovation” into their mission statement, but few practices it. Additive not only enables innovations in design but how products are ordered because you can envision, design, and manufacture them on demand. On-demand manufacturing eliminates the need for minimum order quantities and instead allows manufacturers to instantly quote products, manage projects, and track inventory – anywhere at any time.

One of the advantages touted by the AM industry is the ability to selectively change material properties by varying the process

This idea of “making the unmakeable” is a hallmark of additive manufacturing’s promise. At Fast Radius, this philosophy showed through in a project we delivered with Bastian Solutions, a Toyota Advanced Logistics North America company, to create the Bastian Solutions Shuttle System, a robotic materials handler.

Put, Bastian wanted to make a better arm, with as much in common with the human arm as possible, from the fingertips to the elbow. They needed an entirely new design, and additive manufacturing made that possible.

The manufactured polymers that were used for the arm gave the robot handler’s fingers, joints, and elbows more dexterity and efficiency. As well, the lightweight material allowed for more sustainable operations because the additively manufactured shuttle system can be powered by a smaller motor and requires less power to execute its daily operations than with its previous metallic parts.

Also, manufacturing the parts through reduced additive costs by a quarter of what traditional costs would have been, with a significantly reduced production time.

So if you’re scoring at home, that’s increased dexterity/ proficiency, increased efficiency, increased sustainability with a reduction in costs the operational grand slam.

The fast track

The fourth modality of transportation is on the fast track, especially for logistics companies that are ready to seize it. Producing parts closer to customers will, in turn, reduce transportation costs, moving from linear supply chains that store excess inventory to agile networks that can quickly respond to consumer demands. This can reduce the need to outsource manufacturing overseas and challenge how we think about the future of global trade.

Understanding where the manufacturing and logistics industries are going, ensuring your company will seize the opportunity, acknowledging the financial advantages and accomplishing the impossible are a tall order– but the fourth modality of transportation can, and will deliver the future of manufacturing.

Lou Rassey is the Chief Executive Officer at Fast Radius, a leading provider of on-demand additive manufacturing technology solutions – from entirely new products enabled by additive manufacturing to global supply chain solutions leveraging a virtual warehouse. Fast Radius is recognized as one of the 16 best factories in the world by the World Economic Forum (WEF), implementing “technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The companies were selected from 1,000 manufacturers worldwide, with Fast Radius selected as the only award recipient from North America.