We’ve all heard about the new coronavirus outbreak in China, but how could it affect 3D printing?
As the outbreak originated in Wuhan, some two hours by aircraft west of Shanghai, that city has been disconnected from the Chinese travel networks in an attempt to corral the disease before it spreads widely. My understanding is that several other cities have received the same treatment, and even Hong Kong has blocked some travel to the mainland.
That’s definitely not good, and I wish the best to those affected and especially those working against the outbreak. But how could this affect the world of 3D printing? Could it affect it at all?
TCT Asia Postponement
It turns out it has already done so. TCT Asia announced they are postponing their upcoming February event in Shanghai. They say:
“After studying and evaluating the announcements, guidance and news released by relevant national departments and in order to protect the health and safety of our exhibitors and visitors we are sorry to announce that TCT Asia, scheduled to be held Feb 19-21, 2020 will be postponed to a later date.We will confirm the new dates as soon as possible after Chinese new year holidays.”
That’s unfortunate, but entirely understandable. So far we have not heard of any similar postponements, but perhaps that’s because the events we monitor are distant from the outbreak — at least for now.
It’s been said that the sectors most affected by disease outbreaks are travel and tourism, which makes sense. 3D printing conferences are a form of tourism, and they are subject to the same analysis and threat of postponement.
Coronavirus Effect on 3D Printing
But are there other effects on 3D printing that could occur? I think there’s one big item that could appear within a few weeks in certain areas: supplies.
3D printer manufacturing is booming; most of the vendors are busily building and selling equipment to clients worldwide. These 3D printer manufacturing lines must be supplied with all manner of components, such as rails, threaded rods, circuit boards, sensors, and other critical items. Many of these components are built in China, and it’s quite possible some of them are made within the quarantined zones.
The quarantined cities have drastically restricted travel, and they are said to be effectively cut off — and that’s the objective of the health authorities, obviously.
This suggests that we probably won’t see shipping containers full of components leaving these cities for some time yet.
The good news is that the major manufacturing locations in China have not been quarantined yet, such as Shenzhen or Shanghai. But if they are, then things might get more difficult.
3D Printer Availability With Coronavirus
Does this mean there are no components available? It’s possible that regional distributors may have stocks of popular components that can be drawn from, at least until they run empty. Then, if there is no resupply from quarantined manufacturers, we have a shortage scenario.
If that occurs, then the manufacture of certain 3D printers requiring the components may stall. But again, there is a buffer in that a 3D printer manufacturer will have a queue of machines being made and have a quantity of required components on site. Eventually, their manufacturing pipeline could stall when certain components run out.
These scenarios might take weeks or months to play out, and it’s entirely possible that the scare could be over by then, or alternate arrangements for outbound shipments could be in place to overcome the quarantine.
For now, things should be mostly normal. But as time passes and the crisis continues, don’t be surprised if your favorite 3D printer is suddenly out of stock.
Via TCT Asia