Could Brexit Affect 3D Printing? Oh, Yes!

Will the UK stay in the EU? Or will it be a Brexit? 

Will the UK stay in the EU? Or will it be a Brexit? 

This week an important referendum takes place in the UK. But could the “Brexit” hurt or harm the world of 3D printing?

If you’re not familiar with the situation, here’s a brief synopsis: the UK is currently a member of the European Union, a collection of European states that have developed unified rules of commerce, free trade amongst member states and standardized import/export rules. 

Participation in the community requires funding by member states, but for that they each gain representation in the European parliament where such matters are discussed and agreed to. 

The proposal be voted by citizens of the UK this week is whether to remain in the EU, or leave to become (or really, resume) being a completely independent state. Proponents suggest there will be both savings (by not having to contribute to the EU) and freedom to enact rules without consideration of other EU members. Detractors to the proposal suggest a significant, long-term upheaval of economic systems and diminished international clout. 

If the proposal is turned down (as in “stay” vote), then things remain pretty much as they are today. But should the “leave” side win, then my understanding is that a mandatory two year period of negotiation with the EU commences to determine the terms and logistics of actually removing the UK from the EU. 

Should that occur, I suspect there will be significant effects on 3D printing, at least in Europe. Some thoughts on what might happen: 

EU citizens based in the UK working in 3D print organizations will be required to leave the country. It’s possible 3D print organizations will suddenly find themselves short-staffed and in search of local (UK) equivalent skills, which they may not be able to locate. 

Trade agreements between the (separate) UK and the EU won’t exist and will have to be negotiated, and the EU is likely to be at a significantly disadvantaged negotiating position. The end result is that UK 3D exports to the EU, which would be a large portion of the revenue pie, would be subject to unknown duties, taxes and hassle. For EU customers, it might be easier for them to purchase from EU suppliers, not UK suppliers. 

Similarly, UK-based 3D print organizations purchasing supplies, components or services abroad in the EU would be subject to import duties, taxes and again, hassle. Not fun. 

UK-based 3D organizations may have a tougher time selling inside the UK, as there could be financial disruption due to corporate changes: some head offices will move from the UK to remain the EU to maintain their businesses, taking with them jobs. This would echo in the housing market, as large numbers of people would be selling / leaving their residences. 

Startup 3D companies in the UK may suffer as investment would tend to flow to the much larger EU market rather than the diminished UK market. It would get worse if Scotland subsequently votes to leave the UK to re-join the EU independently. 

Some UK businesses may find procuring 3D services may be suddenly cheaper to buy locally rather than from the EU due to duties, taxes and hassle, but it’s only relative: the EU services will be higher priced and the UK services remain the same. 

I cannot think of any compelling advantage in a Brexit for UK-based 3D print businesses, and indeed there may be grave consequences for UK 3D companies currently at or below breaking even financially. 

While I cannot vote in the referendum as I am not a UK citizen, I would vote to stay. We are more powerful together than we are apart, even if it’s uncomfortable at times. 

Please, stay.

General Fabb

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has been writing Fabbaloo posts since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!