The United States has one of 16 so-called “lighthouse” facilities named as one of the leading 16 factories in the world today – Fast Radius’s Chicago factory, a 3D printing facility located in the city’s West Loop.
Fast Radius is a leading “provider of comprehensive additive manufacturing solutions” that specializes in the emerging field of 3D printing. The facility supports the most advanced industrial-grade additive manufacturing production in North America.
A World Economic Forum (WEF) white paper identified 16 factories that are leading the world economy in manufacturing technology. These factories, which exist across a broad range of industries, are classified by the WEF as “Lighthouse” facilities.
3D printing first became feasible in 1981. In recent years the technology has been adopted by an increasing number of manufacturing companies to develop cheap prototypes for testing and to efficiently produce spare parts. 3D printing can produce any complex solid object with computer-aided design. Manufacturing applications for 3D printing include a wide range of complex machines from jet engines and smartphones to more simple goods like toys.
Fast Radius has the backing of UPS to manufacture products for its global supply-chain.
“3D printing is becoming the face of manufacturing and distribution,” said David Abney, UPS Chairman and CEO. “It allows manufacturers to go from mass production to custom production.”
Fast Radius’s presence is growing across UPS’s distribution network. Abney stated that there is now a 3D factory located at the UPS All-Points Hub in Louisville, Kentucky. He also asserted that UPS will be able to take orders for a non-existing product and deliver it the next day.
“In this age of empowered consumers, that is becoming very important,” Abney continued. “It allows manufacturers to sell, then produce and not vice versa, giving them a competitive advantage.”
With this approach, UPS can effectively create and customize its own supply to respond in real-time to specialized demand, a first for second-party logistics providers.
Worldwide, 3D printing is becoming a desirable goal for the global manufacturing market. Value-added services and business model innovation, which stem from 3D printing, are a high priority for 58 percent of the WEF’s 16 identified lighthouse sites, but only 33 percent have deployed these services. The WEF report identified the Fast Radius Chicago plant and the Bad Pymont manufacturing facility of Phoenix Contact, a German autonomous equipment manufacturer, as leading the way in these fields.
While the Fast Radius Chicago facility is the only American-based lighthouse plant, there are several overseas which are owned by U.S. companies.
The emergence of 3D additive manufacturing has the potential to cause a reduction of long-distance shipping volumes as part production migrates closer to consumers, challenging established carriers in the logistics industry.