The head of international trade analysis at ING, Raoul Leering, has written that growth in 3D printing could wipe out nearly a quarter of world trade by 2060.
The 3D printing industry is growing like crazy, and innovations in the technology have turned 3D printing from the novelty that it was a decade ago into a practical tool in the advancement of commercial manufacturing.
Today, 3D printing is used for manufacturing component parts for smartphones, 98% of hearing aides produced worldwide are manufactured using 3D printing, and 3D printing is widely used for prototyping and product development. Two-thirds of manufacturers already use 3D printing in some capacity, and another 25% have plans to adopt the technology.
And the advances in the industry are astounding. Shoemakers can now custom print sneakers. GE now uses 3D printing to create the fuel nozzle for its Leap engine, a part that once used over a dozen separate parts, but is now only one. Flat organs like skin and blood vessels, and hollow ones like bladders, are being successfully printed and used in clinical settings.
According to Leering, if advances in high-speed 3D printing makes mass production more viable, it could cause major disruptions to the global flow of goods, and about half of all manufactured goods could be printed by 2060 if the current growth of investment in 3D printing technology continues.
If it does, it could cut world trade by 25% and would require far less labor and reduce the need to import goods from low-wage countries. This ultimately would result in narrowed trade deficits for major importers, however, countries with a trade surplus would suffer.
According to Leering, that’s the slow growth scenario. If investments in 3D printing continue to ramp up, doubling every 5 years, Leering projects that as much as two-fifths of global trade could be erased.
While the 3D printing technology has not yet evolved to the point that it could enable mass production, it may be a powerful disruptor in the near future.