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AEB White Paper

Six theories about how 3D

printing will change logistics
Plus: current perception of the benefits and limitations of 3D printing

Software, consultancy and services for global trade and supply chain management
A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s


1. Executive summary03

2. Benefits of 3D printing at a glance 04

3. Limitations and challenges of 3D printing05

4. Six theories about how 3D printing will change logistics 06

01: 3
 D printing will offer opportunities for mass customization and 06
decentralized production
02: Last-mile shipping will increase 07
03: The market for 3D desktop printers will continue to grow 08
04: 3D printing will make the world a little bit greener 08
05: R
 eplacement parts will be stored as data models 09
in virtual warehouses and printed on demand
06: Customs authorities will lose their oversight role 10

Appendix: Common processes for additive manufacturing 12

What is a white paper? 13

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

1. Executive summary

3D printing has been used by the automotive of women’s shoes that can be printed out
and aerospace industries to build prototypes overnight,2) and there is a long-running
for some time now. Components manufactured competition among architects to produce
with 3D printing offer the same safety and the first habitable printed structure,3) with
stability as the traditionally manufactured ongoing research into the technologies and
components they replace but at a fraction of materials best suited to the task.
the weight. Integrating such components But the market has also developed in less
into finished aircraft helps save fuel and spectacular ways. Prices for 3D desktop
reduce CO2 emissions. In medical technology, printers have already fallen below the EUR
additive manufacturing – the industry term for 1,000 mark, making them accessible to
3D printing – has already achieved standards private consumers as well. Not all of us have
on par with traditional manufacturing the ambition to design our own goods, but the
methods. Dental crowns, hip joint prosthetics, scene for so-called “fabbers” – people who print
hearing aid shells: 3D printing is used cell phone cases, mugs, jewelry, or game pieces
­wherever “replacement parts” for the body for their own personal use – is growing. In Shoes, hats, artificial
are needed. The medical industry will see the commercial sector, 3D printing offers skin, houses, pizza –
even more revolutionary developments in the the opportunity to move production close to there seems to be
years to come. Researchers are experimenting the consumer. Experts nevertheless remain nothing that cannot be
with the printing of human cells. Artificial skeptical that the technology will have much printed.
skin for burn victims, artificial ears, and of an impact on global transport volumes in
­artificial kidneys are no longer a utopian the near future. The trend toward custom
­v ision. A Swiss-made 3D printer is designed production is more likely to boost so-called
to manufacture lung tissue, and soon it will “last-mile” shipping.
also print jawbone implants. Many experts assume that in 20 or 50 years,
Fashion designers, architects, artists, and we will have mobile production platforms
food technicians are experimenting with the that print out components right where they
possibilities offered by 3D printing. Shoes, are needed. This could mean that we only
clothing, buildings, miniatures, even pizza – need to move raw materials and 3D print
all these things have already been printed. cartridges around the world. Time will tell
The potential for replication seems almost whether such an extreme scenario becomes
boundless. Hardly a month goes by in which reality.
we don’t hear reports of something new that
has been manufactured by 3D printing. One thing is for certain: The market share of
Nike has marketed the first athletic shoe additive manufacturing will continue to grow.
with 3D-printed components, a designer is This white paper puts forward six theories
launching her first collection of printed nylon about how the technology will affect society
hats, you can download templates for a pair
as a whole and logistics in particular.


A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

2. Benefits of 3D printing at a glance

NO WASTE 3D printers apply layer after LIMITED MASS PRODUCTION The

layer of plastic, synthetic resin, metal, ceramic, print technology is also useful for small
or plaster without producing any waste. production batches or limited mass
While traditional manufacturing processes production and for manufacturing the
always involve the removal of material through molds needed for this type of production.
sanding or milling, additive manufacturing
only consumes the material that is actually CUTS CO2 EMISSIONS 3D printing
needed. With one exception: Extra material makes it possible to construct lighter
is required to build support structures for components, which – when installed in
overhanging constructions. This “scaffolding” aircraft, for example – can help reduce
can be removed following the production CO2 emissions.
phase by immersion in a caustic solution,
for example. ADAPTABLE The design can be adapted
at any time to improve or modify the
LIGHT AND STABLE 3D print technology functionality of a component.
makes it possible to create nearly any
geometric form with the help of design MADE TO ORDER In the future, it will
software – incorporating hollow spaces and be possible to print out replacement parts
filigree honeycomb structures, for example, on demand without the need to store them
that are much lighter than traditionally for years. This will cut down on the need for
manufactured components with no loss of storage space and resources.
COMPETITIVE 3D printing will make
CUSTOMIZED 3D printing lets you it possible for high-wage countries to
manufacture individualized products, “nearshore” production back home again
such as hearing aid shells custom-fit to from low-wage countries.
the recipient.
NO CUSTOMS The electronic trans-
POINT-OF-SALE PRODUCTION 3D mission of digital design plans for local
printing enables decentralized production production eliminates customs duties.
close to or directly at the point of sale. This
saves transport costs and drives down
overall logistics expenses.

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

3. Limitations and challenges

of 3D printing

NO MASS PRODUCTION 3D printing LIABILITY ISSUES Many product liability

technology is not yet suitable for mass issues remain unresolved. If anyone can
production. It cannot compete with the become a manufacturer or producer, who
speed of traditional manufacturing processes. assumes liability when something breaks?
3D printing is still so young that the law
ROUGH SURFACE Many 3D printing has lagged behind on such issues.
processes leave a rough surface structure
on objects made of synthetic fibers. If a INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUES
smooth surface is needed, the objects If anyone can download blueprints from the
require finishing. Internet, issues of copyright and intellectual
property rights arise. Manufacturers of
LESS SECURITY 3D printing has the brand-name goods will likely integrate copy
potential to undermine control mechanisms protection mechanisms or assign licensing
that ensure products are safe and appropriate rights to control their intellectual property.
for the market. Customs authorities lose
their oversight capabilities when goods are
no longer transported across borders; they
cannot conduct consumer protection or
safety controls or keep counterfeit goods
off the market. Without customs controls,
local production using 3D print technology
is subject to the normal rules.

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

4. Six theories about how 3D printing

will change logistics

THEORY 1 3D printing will offer opportunities for mass customization

and decentralized production

When we look at how rapidly the various 3D In 2013, the US government earmarked
print technologies have developed so far, we
USD 30 million to fund a research project
can assume that more and more industries into additive manufacturing. The President
will invest in 3D printing. Manufacturers asked Congress for its support to build
from all types of industries are talking with additional 3D technology centers.
consultants and running tests to see which
products they can someday produce using Many of the goods that are currently
3D print technology. mass-produced will continue to be
mass-produced. The main reason is that Forecasts for the
Logistics Trend Radar, published by DHL, many articles that can be very affordably growth of additive
expects an annual growth rate of 13.5 manufactured with traditional processes manufacturing in
percent for additive manufacturing. The would be much too expensive to produce Logistics Trend
2013 study predicts that the global market in large quantities using 3D printing. Radar 2014
of USD 1.8 billion in 2012 will grow to
USD 3.5 billion in 2017. The Logistics Trend But one thing is certain: The trend toward
Radar report of 2014 cites a McKinsey customization will continue. On the one
study that forecasts a market of hand you will have the tinkerers, techies,
USD 550 billion in the year 2025. 5)
and creative types who will design and print
out their own coffee mugs, door knobs, or
Experts agree that 3D printing promotes towel racks. The “fabbers” will continue to
local and regional production and that the grow in number, turning their own homes
next 20 years will see 3D print centers into production centers. But not all of us
spring up close to sales markets. have the ambition to become our own
designers and producers. Most of us will
In the past, many companies outsourced their be happy to have manufacturers customize
production to Asia to save costs. Now, 3D product designs to our wishes. 3D printing
printing gives them the option of “nearshoring” makes it possible to accommodate individual
their production back to high-wage countries. customer requests during production.
The most prominent advocate of this theory Manufacturers will no longer keep large
is US President Barack Obama, who sees volumes of standardized products in stock,
the spread of this technology as potentially moving instead to a more flexible manu-
revolutionizing the American economy. facturing model based on the “made to

See the appendix for an overview of the most popular technologies.
See DHL Trend Radar, page 33, or www.mckinsey.com/insights/manufacturing/3-d_printing_takes_shape
You can download Logistics Trend Radar 2014 from the DHL website:

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

order” principle. This will depend on progress clicking the “Order” button. Increasingly
in the coming years with the speed of 3D individualized production will have an
printing. impact on logistics:
As mass production in East Asia declines,
The variety of products will expand and long-distance shipping will also decline, but
production will become even more customized this could be accompanied by an increase in
than it already is today in the automotive “last-mile” shipping.
industry. In the future, customers will modify
the model of a lampshade online before

THEORY 2 Last-mile shipping will increase

The vision pursued with 3D print technology will affect global transport volumes. Routes
looks something like this: Goods no longer will likely shift – fewer finished products
need to be shipped halfway around the will be shipped from far away. Meanwhile,
world, because they can be printed out close the importance of local production sites
to the consumer. But for now, the idea that close to consumer markets will increase.
in 35 years we will only be shipping raw Initially, this would mean an increase in
materials and 3D print cartridges is still “last mile” shipping. This assessment is
just a faraway vision. based on the experiences of recent years,
which has seen a sharp rise in e-commerce. Greater availability of
Logistics Trend Radar, which DHL published Even if it is safe to assume that the do-it- 3D print technology and
for the second time in 2014, cites ongoing yourself community will grow, it is rather increased production
globalization as one of the megatrends of unlikely that every household will print out close to the consumer
tomorrow. The spread of 3D printing could its own goods at home. But when consumers will have an impact on
counteract the trend toward globalization. demand a greater say in the design of their logistics: Fewer products
But it is still unclear how great an impact 3D products, “made to order” production will be shipped from far
print technology will have. Forecasters are models will be the response. away, but “last mile”
also cautious when it comes to the overall shipping could increase.
impact of 3D printing on transport volumes. The volume of custom manufacturing will
Logistics Trend Radar names 3D printing likely grow. But it is impossible to say for
as one of the technology trends whose full certain whether this will actually lead to more
impact will not become clear for at least 5 package delivery trips and environmental
years and ranks the potential as “moderate,” pollution. Efforts are already underway to
not “significant.” This hesitation is based on reduce transport volumes by consolidating
the uncertainty as to whether 3D printing shipments and better optimizing truckloads.
will be able to supplant traditional manu- As individualized production and distribution
facturing processes. grows, such efforts must be redoubled to
prevent the volume of last-mile shipping
So it is not yet possible to predict if and to from growing at the same rate.
what extent the spread of 3D print technology

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

THEORY 3 The market for 3D desktop printers will continue to grow

The media hype surrounding 3D printing in Designs can be downloaded from the Internet
the past two years and the growing popularity or created with the help of iPad apps. The
among private citizens has a lot to do with three-dimensional object is prepared in the
the fact that this technology is essentially STL file format that any 3D printer can read.
open to anyone. One manufacturer of desktop Just send the file to the desktop printer – at
3D printers sold 12,000 such devices in 2012. home or in the 3D print shop around the
Hobbyists and DIY’ers can order a 3D print- corner. That’s it!
er kit for EUR 699, including a kilogram of
plastic filament, and assemble it themselves. The world’s first 3D print shop opened in
Zurich in 2012. Additional print shops
The number of people who want to play with opened in Munich and Vienna in 2014.
this technology will also grow in the years to It’s safe to assume that 3D print shops,
come. The “fabber” scene has emerged from where customers can go to have their own
the DIY communities who create their own custom-designed objects manufactured,
designs and print out their own bracelets, will continue to pop up in major cities in
coffee mugs, or self-portrait busts. The the coming years.
generation coming of age today expects to
be able to print out a chess piece or building
block overnight.

THEORY 4 3D printing will make the world a little bit greener

Benefit 1: The use of lighter components the material needed for the end product.
in the aerospace industry will reduce Constructions with overhanging designs do
CO2 emissions. require some extra material for scaffolding,
Manufacturers are using 3D print technology however. When the laser sintering technique
in the aerospace industry to construct is used with a powder-based material, the
parts with up to 70 percent less weight than scaffolding is dissolved within the hollow
conventionally manufactured parts. Building spaces, where it can be captured and re-used.
aircraft with such parts, which are lighter
but equally stable, reduces weight and Benefit 3: The need for long-distance
fuel consumption, which also lower CO2 shipping is eliminated, thereby reducing
emissions. emissions
See theories 2 and 3: More local production
Benefit 2: Less material consumption minimizes round-the-world shipping. There
3D print processes, unlike traditional remains a need to ship raw materials and
manufacturing processes, only consume products not suited to 3D printing, however.

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

Benefit 4: It is no longer necessary to This is the case with laser sintering and laser
physically store replacement parts. melting when the base material is powder,
Keeping blueprints in digital storage for example. The powder production process
saves resources (see theory 5) is sometimes very energy-intensive. The
Keeping replacement parts in stock original solid plastic, such as polyamide, is
requires storage space and energy to run cooled to -70°C to -100°C so that it doesn’t
the warehouses. If there is no longer any melt in the grinder.
need for physical storage of seldom-needed
replacement parts, resources can be saved. So it is not enough to focus only on how the
This also eliminates the need to dispose of finished product can help reduce carbon
unused replacement parts whose shelf life emissions.
has expired. 3D printing makes it possible
to keep seldom-used replacement parts The assumption is that 3D printing will take
in digital form only and print them out on its place alongside traditional mass-production
demand. technologies, not replace them.
However: 3D printing processes may be There is very little research into how much
more energy-intensive than traditional energy the various manufacturing processes
manufacturing. consume – and measuring and comparing
When one looks at the production process them is difficult.
as a whole, products manufactured using a
professional 3D printing process have a
large carbon footprint.

THEORY 5 Replacement parts will be stored as data models in

virtual warehouses and printed on demand

The greatest opportunities for additive of storage space if all you need to do is
manufacturing are in replacement parts. archive digital blueprints. It is no longer
Companies have an obligation to supply necessary to physically store seldom-used
replacement parts to their customers, even replacement parts. Replacement parts
many years after the sale. Hanging onto for tools and machinery with improved On Earth and in space
these replacement parts ties up large areas functionality can be digitally adapted and
of storage, which costs money. Many printed out only when needed. This saves The military is already
replacement parts may no longer be usable materials and resources. using 3D printing to
after such long periods of storage, so they manufacture replacement
have to be disposed. Older replacement The British, American, and Chinese militaries parts and equipment in
parts can no longer be used in new product have already adopted 3D printing for these war zones. NASA is
versions when equipment is upgraded and very reasons. The US Army prints out surgical testing 3D printers for
new functionalities are added. instruments and protective masks directly use in zero gravity.
in war zones. Shipping containers are
3D printing offers the solution to all these reconfigured as mobile 3D print shops in
problems. It is possible to save a good deal order to provide soldiers stationed abroad

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

with the equipment and replacement parts of expanding their services to include 3D
they need. NASA is also experimenting with printing. Time will tell whether manufacturers
the possibilities offered by 3D printing and turn to their logistics service providers to
has commissioned the production of a 3D store and maintain their blueprints or whether
printer suitable for deployment in outer this will be a new niche for IT specialists.
space. Ideally, NASA would like to enable
astronauts to print out their own tools and Logistics service providers will only be allowed
replacement parts rather than having them to store and print out the data models if the
sent up from Earth. The printer is due to be manufacturers trust them and are prepared
flown up to the International Space Station to give them the 3D data models.
for zero-gravity experiments in 2014.
What’s certain is that in the future, the “value”
Here on Earth, it is fans of vintage cars and of a product will reside in a digital file.
aircraft who appreciate 3D print technology, ­Manufacturers will try to protect their
which allows them to print out replacement ­i ntellectual property by inserting copy
parts that are no longer available or sell them ­protections and assigning licensing rights.
in online marketplaces. The American It is too early to say what the role of the
­comedian and talk show host Jay Leno, who logistics service providers will be in all
owns an entire warehouse full of vintage of this.
automobiles, is the most prominent fan of
3D printing. On YouTube, Leno shows how he
uses 3D printing to manufacture replacement
parts for his 1907 White Steamer.6)

Opportunity for logistics

service providers?
Logistics service providers often handle the
logistics of providing replacement parts as
one of their services. UPS and DHL have
launched pilot projects to study the viability

w ww.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZrJsrTT4EA

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

THEORY 6 Customs authorities will lose their oversight role

The prospect of increased global circulation no longer have access to them. Customs
of digital blueprints and products being officials today work to keep counterfeit
printed close to the consumer in the coming goods off the market. In 2013, the German
years raises new questions. When there is no customs authorities blocked the import of
longer any physical border crossing, there is over 3.9 million knock-off goods with a value
also no longer any role for customs authorities. of EUR 134 million.8) The customs authorities Customs authorities
The elimination of import duties is just one also ensure compliance with consumer help keep international
of many consequences. However, the loss of protection measures and export control commerce secure. This
this source of income will hardly be felt in regulations, which provides security in oversight could be
the customs authorities. In 2013, the EU international commerce. undermined if the
took in a total of EUR 4.2 billion in import movement of physical
duties from non-EU countries. This is a This security could be undermined by the goods across borders
relatively small amount compared to the spread of 3D printing and the transmission is replaced by the
income from excise tax (EUR 65.7 billion) of goods in digital format. Other control electronic transmission
and import value-added tax (EUR 48.5 mechanisms would need to be implemented, of digital blueprints.
billion). 7)
such as we already see today in export control
regulations. Here it is first and foremost the
It’s important to keep in mind, however, responsibility of companies themselves to
that 3D printing will not be capable of comply with mandatory regulations. It
replacing everything that Europe imports remains to be seen how much legislators
from faraway lands. There will still be a or customs authorities will “weigh in” and
need to ship raw materials along with respond with new regulations for 3D printing
textiles, leather, and products made from and the digital transmission of goods.
mixed materials.

But the digitization of commerce will have

other consequences. If goods no longer pass
through border controls, then customs offices

7) 8)
Source: German Ministry of Finance, 2013 Annual Customs Report:

A EB White Paper: Si x t heor ies about how 3D pr inting w ill change logistic s

Appendix: Common processes

for additive manufacturing

Stereolithography applied to the print bed layer by layer. A

The American Chuck Hull, founder of 3D ­second jet creates the supports needed to
Systems, filed for a patent in 1986 for a manufacture overhanging structures. When
­device used to manufacture three-dimen- the manufacturing process is complete, the
sional objects layer by layer by means of supports are removed.
­stereolithography. Stereolithography is
­regarded as the “mother” of all 3D printing Fused deposition modeling, which follows
processes, enabling high-precision manu- the same principle as glue guns, is the
facturing by curing liquid plastic or resin ­technology underlying nearly all affordable
with an ultraviolet laser beam. devices, such as desktop printers for home
The two most common processes of additive
manufacturing are fused deposition modeling Selective laser sintering (SLS)
and selective laser sintering. Laser sintering uses a powder as the base
material. A laser beam selectively heats the
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) powder, fusing the tiny powder beads together
Fused deposition modeling involves manu- so that when they cool, they form a solid
facturing a 3D object layer by layer from a three-dimensional object. SLS is a high-end
fusible plastic. The plastic is heated in the process capable of working with metals,
print head, extruded through fine jets, and plastics, ceramics, or sand.

AEB White Paper: Six theories about how 3 D printing will change logistics

What is a white paper?

AEB defines a white paper as a document analyzed and explained by our experts. A
providing qualified, unbiased information on white paper reflects current understanding at
a particular topic. White papers may deal the time it is written – subsequent changes in
with laws and regulations, standards, the underlying circumstances cannot be
technologies, solutions, or processes – ruled out.

About AEB: Expertise for SCM,

customs, and IT

AEB is a global enterprise with over 400 shipments all the way to their final
employees and 5,000 customers. AEB helps destination.
businesses standardize and automate supply
chain processes with the ASSIST4 integrated AEB is headquartered in Stuttgart, with
software suite and through consulting and offices in Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Munich,
other professional services. AEB solutions and Soest and development centers in Mainz
integrate global trade and logistics and Lübeck.
processes, embedding customs clearance, AEB has international offices in the United
export controls, and preference management Kingdom (Leamington Spa), Singapore,
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chain. The result is a faster, smoother, more Netherlands (Rotterdam), the Czech
efficient flow of goods. ASSIST4 also brings Republic (Prague), France (Paris), and the
greater transparency to the supply chain and United States.
makes it possible to monitor and control

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