3D Printing Industry – Will 3D Printing Be Based in the United States?

The industry of 3D printing is becoming one of the world’s hottest, and Forbes magazine estimated the current $3 billion global market to reach $20 billion by 2015.

It’s expected to knock down barriers in international business. Experts are comparing the innovation to the steam engine, and it’s destined to change the entire manufacturing industry. Countries with manufacturing bases are embracing it and fearing it at the same time.

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3-D printing, turns a blueprint into a product.

Most manufacturing techniques involve removing materials to create an object, by drilling or cutting. Additive manufacturing uses digital technology to add successive layers of a material in different shapes. The process puts layers of plastic or metal (or other compounds) to create a 3-D object, such as a cup, auto part, dental crown, toy or even a gun.

A blueprint can be found online and users can create a product with a few mouse clicks. This technology allows companies and individuals to manufacture short runs of products without much labor, shipping or manufacturing knowledge.

The world will react to this technology, and the trends are clear.

• Governments that protect labor pools will tax the technology.

Many countries adopted protectionist measures to keep citizens employed. These measures were designed to stop foreign competition from selling products in protectionist countries. Nations put tariffs on, for example, Chinese, Japanese and even American goods to keep local factories in business.

But what happens when a local Englishman can simply “print” a part for his car? No stores, import duties, quotas or government revenue. We can bet that 3-D printers will be taxed on purchase and for their use. Much like today, with television taxes in Europe, where citizens pay a government tax to have a TV set in their houses. Owners of 3-D printers might pay one as well.

• Companies that rely on expensive labor will embrace the technology.

In much of Europe, the labor laws make it difficult to fire people, painful to cut wages in hard economic times, impossible to eliminate health insurance, and unacceptable to slash or deny benefits. The social cost of doing business in Western Europe already keeps many manufacturers out of the labor pool. Strong government subsidies often are necessary to lure firms to Europe.

With 3D printing, an employer can have a machine do a person’s job. The machine doesn’t get sick. The machine doesn’t require five weeks’ vacation. The machine can run 24 hours per day and can be moved to another region or country without disrupting an employee’s family. 3D printing offers a way to manufacture close to a client’s location as well as market opportunities that aren’t hamstrung by labor costs.