As the world reels from the industrial challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, more and more industries are turning to additive manufacturing processes. These systems can cut costs, reduce waste, and improve the quality of products altogether. But the benefits do not come without a catch.
As we move into 2021 and the future of additive manufacturing processes, it is necessary to explore the economic implications of 3D printing and all its associated developments. Additive manufacturing will lower the barrier of entry in the manufacturing world. Economic impacts both positive and negative will result.
Here’s what you should know.
The potential of additive manufacturing
According to an analysis by Kearny, 3D printing could potentially bring as many as three to five million skilled jobs to the US within the next decade, a move that would yield up to $900 billion in total economic value. Along with such economic potential, the benefits of additive manufacturing processes are far-reaching.
From healthcare solutions to safer and cleaner modes of transportation, there isn’t a single industry that would remain untouched by widely integrated 3D printing systems. Manufacturing as a whole stands to change.
But the shift will come with profound implications in terms of the economy and the role of manufacturing in the global economy. Here are a few examples:
Climate change is creating real and costly problems for businesses throughout the world. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, if current trends continue, damages inflicted by climate disasters will cost $1.9 trillion per year by 2100. Avoiding this hefty price tag requires efficient products and processes that consume fewer pollutive resources. Additive manufacturing has the potential to do just that.
Metalysis, a UK-based firm, developed a process with the help of additive manufacturing that significantly reduces the energy needed to harvest titanium powder from titanium ore. This process cuts down emissions as well as costs and allows for cleaner material processing. On a large scale for a variety of materials, practices like these can minimize waste and pollution.
With many locations across the world already overdue for a natural disaster, streamlining material collection may be one of the best methods of limiting climate impact. In turn, lives can be saved.
Modern industry is ruled by big data. The power of this data in manufacturing can reduce costs by 12%, improve uptime by 9%, and extend equipment lifetime by 20%. Additive manufacturing has a unique relationship with data in that it can maximize data applications through replicating products and systems in a digital realm. In short, digitization plus additive manufacturing equals a seamless system of visibility and control end-to-end.
This so-called “digital twinning” process enables engineers to focus on problem points. They can replicate every part of the manufacturing process in a digital environment in order to make predictions and experiment with designs for higher levels of efficiency. This can mean exceptional cost savings that reverberate through the economy and are passed down to the average consumer.
Finally, one of the most powerful offerings of additive manufacturing is its flexibility in terms of material usage. Through 3D printing, structures and products can be assembled with previously impossible alloys and components that make for greater strength with less environmental impact.
For example, hemp fibers have been integrated into additively manufactured components and the results are compelling. With strength rivaling or exceeding that of steel in a material that uses far fewer resources, products can be assembled that are not only highly effective but environmentally clean and biodegradable as well.
With potential benefits like these, a shift in our economy will no doubt follow. On the surface, this may only appear positive. However, all change comes with impacts both good and bad. For an economy of additively manufactured products, these effects have yet to be explored.
The economic impacts
Additive manufacturing by nature is an accessible manufacturing system. Its usage has already contributed to what has been referred to as the maker movement, a democratization of manufacturing in which creators are only limited by their imaginations. Additive manufacturing makes this possible by lowering the barrier of entry for entrepreneurship and revolutionizing the marketplace with product diversity.
This shift may be the next most influential manufacturing development since the Industrial Revolution, with the potential to create innumerable jobs and open up income streams across demographics.
At the same time, challenges still exist in the accessibility of this technology and the scale to which it can be adopted. In addition, traditional manufacturers will now have to compete with a new branch of the gig economy and adjust their own processes accordingly.
The economic impacts inherent in these changes are broken down here.
Many of the positive economic implications of additive manufacturing are already visible. Manufacturers are increasingly developing better products with more sustainable materials. With results like these, the demand for this process and the technicians to support and develop it only goes up, leading to job creation and more sustainable products.
This equates to economic impacts like the following:
- Job growth in local and hobbyist manufacturing.
- Decreases in overhead costs for assembling and testing a prototype, to as low as $2,000.
- Democratization of part- and tool-creation with the right software solutions.
In an environment like this, the sky’s the limit for product innovation. No longer are design and manufacturing processes limited to companies with substantial capital. They’re open to any individual with the tools and drive to develop a product. The economic implications of this are impossible to guess in full, but they will almost certainly include better products with more efficient designs as competition opens up.
What is best for global trade isn’t necessarily what’s best for everyone. This is true of additive manufacturing and its economic implications. The maker movement and widespread efficiency enabled by additive manufacturing will change the playing field for all in the manufacturing industry, causing a redirection of practices and resources.
These challenges include:
- Competition from a broader field of manufacturers, forcing changes in marketing business strategies.
- Declines in industries using traditional products, materials, and resources.
- Greater, costlier need for secure manufacturing data systems.
Like all past innovations, a widespread shift to additive manufacturing will not come without its challenges. Everything from broader competition to ensuring digital security will be new components of the future economy. However, these challenges can be addressed to best maximize the benefits of additive manufacturing and create a more efficient and cleaner future for the world.
A future of clean, powerful industry
Right now, we face challenges all across the world in terms of infrastructure sustainability and carbon emissions. Little has the potential to address these challenges like additive manufacturing.
In the United States, for example, the Council on Foreign Relations has expressed concerns regarding everything from transportation to water infrastructure. A 2017 report gave the nation’s infrastructure a D+ average, with an estimated need of $2 trillion in infrastructure spending by 2025 — otherwise, we’ll lose $4 trillion of GDP.
Additive manufacturing has proven its ability to help problems just like these and do so more cheaply and sustainably than traditional processes. Findings from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) identify $4.1 billion annual savings from additive manufacturing, and that’s not including the less-quantifiable savings gained from more efficient R&D and product development. Savings like these mean governments and private investors can more easily revolutionize world infrastructure for cleaner and safer systems.
While it is impossible to understand the full financial impacts additive manufacturing will have, it is clear that this transition will be positive. With clean products built sustainably for a fully fuel-efficient future, business opportunities can flourish with fewer costs passed onto the average consumer.
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