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German logistics firm to print parts to cut supply chain woes

German logistics company DB Schenker said Wednesday its customers can order components from a “virtual warehouse” that it will then produce with 3D technology, in a new service aimed at circumventing delivery waits and supply chain snags.

The coronavirus pandemic upturned global transport, leading to bottlenecks and long delivery times, which have still to ease in some sectors.

The service would save companies from ordering from afar, as the products from the online catalogue can be available “as quickly as possible and manufactured directly where they are needed”, DB Schenker chief Jochen Thewes said in a statement.

The innovation would reduce the cost of making and delivering parts, such as industrial handles, panels and casings, said DB Schenker, which tested the project with clients from the manufacturing, auto and rail sectors.

Its parent company, the German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, had already made use of 80,000 3D-printed parts, the logistics firm said.

“Up to 10 percent of the inventories held by companies can in theory be produced on site,” estimated Thewes.

The solution was particularly suitable for parts that were only needed in small quantities, with the specifications uploaded and stored online, DB Schenker said.

DB Schenker said the move would “drastically” reduce delivery times at a time when global supply chains are under immense stress.

The virtual warehouse would give companies the option to “react more flexibly to unexpected delivery bottlenecks”, the company said.

Short production runs would also ensure that “valuable raw materials are only used for the parts needed” and further help the environment by reducing delivery distances, the company said.