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How Will 3D Printing Change The Manufacturing Industry?

Industry News

3D printing has created a platform where many things can be created with almost no effort, but the 3D printing technology used today is not viable in every industry. The industries where 3D printers could replace the current workforce will make tough changes over the next decade, but industries that are too big for 3D printing will have another decade before the technology catches up with them. This article explores the ethical and moral obligations of an industry to its customers and employees.

3D Printing Small Items and Prototypes

Small items that are created on large conveyor belts today can be created using a 3D printer in the future, and the large factories that once dominated a business' overhead could be reduced to small industrial estates with 3D printers running ever day. The businesses that make the change to 3D printers will operate with far fewer personnel, less overhead and greater profits. The buildings they manage will be smaller, and the products will turn out quite similar to what was built in the past.

3D printing is also now being used for rapid prototyping in a variety of industries today including aerospace, medical, and automotive. As technology in 3D printing has improved, the ability to make larger items as well as more detailed objects has become more commonplace. Some manufacturers are using 3D printing technology to make lighter airplane parts, custom prosthetic devices, as well as small-scale models used to prototype and test new designs. In the future, 3D printing may even allow for the manufacture of parts and components that just can't be created through traditional fabrication methods.

The technology to 3D print large or very complex products, or products made from certain “hard to work with” materials still isn't there yet, so, for some manufacturers 3D printing is not yet an option. As the technology advances in the coming decades, its uses will increase and become more viable, but there are some specialty items in which it may never be possible - or economical - to create with 3D printing.

How 3D Printing May Impact Jobs

Employees who work in large factories today could be out of a job soon after as more manufacturers make a shift to use more 3D printing. There are companies that may repurpose employees for other tasks, but it is also likely that massive layoffs may occur. There may be too much redundancy in each factory, and the employees could be let go to help manufacturers save money. 3D printers run with very little outside help, and the difference between traditionally made products and the ones made with 3D printed parts may be undetectable to the customer.

Every business must make a decision that includes both sides of the problem. Some employees must be kept on-staff, but there are several businesses that may let everyone go in favor of a few saved dollars. Boycotts could begin against the largest companies who lay off many employees, and we may see petitions online calling for businesses to stop using 3D technology. The initial backlash could be quite large.

How Will Customers and Retailers Respond?

Customers in several industries will be pleased with the reduction in price for the things they buy every day, but there are other customers who may be upset if the same companies terminate hundreds or thousands of workers in the process. There could be a stark contrast between the consumers who are pleased to save money and the customers who are upset with mass layoffs.

The majority of consumers in the world today will likely continue to buy the products they have always bought, and those products will likely cost a bit less than they did before. There are many customers who will not wonder how many people were laid off in the transition to 3D printing, and the savings will likely be more than enough consolation.

Companies who sell these products will be happy to save money on every order, and more money will be made by every seller. The worldwide attitude toward 3D will likely shift slowly until many consumers have 3D printer in their home. Consumers will begin printing their own products - and replacement parts for products they own - and businesses may need to find new ways to convince customers to continue buying new products. The 3D printing wars may stretch from factories to the homes of the customers who once bought these items in mass quantities.

The Slow Turn Of The Screw

The screw will turn very slowly in the manufacturing industry until everyone is using 3D printing in one way or another. As technology improves and the costs come down, there will likely be little reason for anyone to avoid the 3D printer, and more consumers will have their own 3D printers in their homes. The outcome of the 3D printing revolution may not be known for years, but it has certainly started. Only time will tell how it will all play out.