We know the vision: consumer owns an advanced 3D printer. They buy 3D designs online and print out their desired objects onsite within moments. Ta da!
We also know the implications of this vision: Dead factories, fewer trains and trucks hauling finished goods around, perhaps a slightly greener world, more 3D designers and fewer manufacturing workers. This, we think, could be generally positive.
Unless you're China.
China, that Great Factory For The World, could be severely impacted in the future if the vision came to pass. This is the premise of a long article in Forbes, where they say:
Such manufacturing is being enabled by the long march of technology. And it surely worries China. While economic historians remind us of the importance of the twin innovations of free markets and financial structures, both those factors pale against the power of technology to create productivity, and thus the wealth of the world.If the future factory is a machine born of emerging technologies and requires de minimus labor, on average such factories will be located preferentially where the skills and culture exist to invent and implement. And, on average, you’d put such factories close to demand.
The idea is that over the long term, technology becomes less expensive while the cost of labor continually increases. In order to be productive, you must leverage technology to achieve the best result.
What do we think? We agree, although the time frame for this is questionable. Current inexpensive (and even expensive) 3D printers have huge limitations on what they can produce. Typical printed objects have no where near the variety of materials possible in conventional mass production.
But that will gradually change over time, and we'll probably see 3DP starting to chip away at mass manufacturing in a few years.