Why 3-D Printing Could Lead to Massive Job Losses

3-D printing is a recently developed technology that is set to revolutionize the way products are made. The concept was once part of the science fiction world, but the printers have become reality and are beginning to pop up everywhere. They are appearing in a diverse number of places from the desks of home-hobbyists to research centres for Air Force drones.

They also range massively in price from around $400 to more than $500,000 so suit every need. They work by extruding layer upon layer of plastic or other materials such as metal to create 3-D products with moving parts. Although in many ways these appear to be completely amazing, these printers could also lead to massive job losses.

These printers can be used to make just about anything from jewellery and iPod stands, to guitars and even guns. The fact that they can be used by potentially anyone to make dangerous items such as guns is controversial in itself. 

The biggest future challenge could be the massive change that will occur in the coming decades when these printers go mainstream.

“We believe that 3-D printing is fundamentally changing the manufacturing ecosystem in its entirety — how and where products are made and by whom,” said Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of New York-based Shapeways, an online company that makes and sells 3-D printed products designed by individuals. These products include egg cups to lamps.

“We’re on the verge of the next industrial revolution, no doubt about it,” added Dartmouth College business professor Richard D’Aveni. “In 25 years, entire industries are going to disappear. Countries relying on mass manufacturing are going to find themselves with no revenues and no jobs.”

When parts break or go wrong either on land, sea or air, new replacement parts can be printed on the spot. Even the tools used to install them can be printed. All of this eliminates the need for warehouses around the world which in turn includes the workers who currently work there. The potential consequences are huge.

“We’re going to see innovation happening at a much higher rate, the introduction of products at a much higher rate,” said DeGrange. “We live in an on-demand world now, and we’ll see production schedules are going to be greatly compressed.”

The growth in 3-D printing has already been huge with a 7.2% sales growth each year since they were first introduced back in 2007. This market is only set to grow with sales projected to jump from about $1.7 billion in 2011 to $3.7 billion in 2015. The US military is set to invest massively in this technology due to the changing nature of warfare and the huge advantages 3-D printers could bring to helping develop weapons and printing weapons and ammunition on the ground in combat situations. NASA is also looking into the benefits of utilizing these printers.

There are some that are doubtful as to how disruptive 3-D printing will be on traditional manufacturing. For Cliff Waldman, a senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation says it is just too early to tell what the impact could be but doesn’t believe that the ”fundamental shape” of manufacturing will be changed, unlike what others have claimed.

“I think 3-D has the capacity to impact both products and processes,” he said. “I am not ready to say that it is completely disruptive, however. It might be in a few narrow industries.”

Throughout history, there have been worries about new technology and the effects that it has on society and the potential for job losses. The difference now is the way technology and its development has sped up immeasurably. Technology fuels technology and it becomes easier and easier to innovate as the tools at our disposal become more sophisticated.
There is a real danger from 3-D printer technology for job losses because in the short-term they could give companies the increased profits that they desire and require. If they don’t have to pay as many workers this a benefit to them as it means more profit. If they can cut their manufacturing costs and the time it takes to produce products, most companies will jump at this chance.

Only time will tell what will happen with this technology but it seems more than likely that it will lead to job losses in some areas of manufacturing.

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