Oct 3, 2017 | By Benedict

ING, a Dutch bank and financial services company, has compiled a report that says 3D printing could “wipe out” almost a quarter of world trade by 2060. The report predicts a reduction in cross-border trade, with locally 3D printed parts eliminating the need for importing and exporting.

Does 3D printing signal the end for cross-border trade? It’s a question at the heart of ING’s new report, “3D printing: a threat to global trade,” and it’s a question that seems particularly significant in a time where Brexit, Russian-American tensions, and various other global affairs could potentially make cross-border trade much more complex than it once was.

ING is perhaps best known as a bank, in both the Netherlands and elsewhere, but its range of financial and business services cover many areas that could be of interest to investors, commercial bankers, and other clients.

And this report, functioning as both a warning to global trade and a sign of encouragement to the additive manufacturing industry, comes packed with some very interesting claims—both for those in business and the general reader.

Perhaps the biggest claim of the bunch is the prediction that 25 per cent of world trade could be “wiped out” by 3D printing in just four decades.

ING justifies the prediction by forecasting that companies in automotive, industrial machinery, and consumer products will turn to localized 3D printing production methods that will reduce the need for cross-border trade. These industries, the report explains, are “top investors in 3D printers and…large players in world trade.”

What’s particularly striking about ING’s report is the assertion that, at present, the effect of additive manufacturing on trade is virtually negligible. Sure, many companies are just starting to get a foothold in 3D printing, but don’t forget that additive manufacturing is already a six-billion-dollar global industry.

3D printing could "catch up" with traditional manufacturing by 2040 or 2060, depending on certain variables

That, ING says, is just a tiny stepping stone to what the technology will soon become.

In terms of figures, the report forecasts that additive could be responsible for half of global manufacturing in as little as 20 years’ time, while a more conservative estimate puts the timescale at 40 years.

“It is tricky to define the exact potential of 3D printing, but some experts expect a share of 50 per cent in manufacturing over the next two decades,” the report states. “Tentative calculations show that, if the current growth of investment in 3D printers continues, 50 per cent of manufactured goods will be printed in 2060…with this figure possibly being achieved as early as 2040 [if] investment doubles every five years.”

It’s hard to even picture a world in which half of manufactured goods are made on 3D printers, but what’s even harder to picture is how this will affect certain industries, countries, and particular businesses.

For the U.S., which is given plenty of attention throughout the report, the advent of an additive manufacturing era looks to be a positive omen. Locally 3D printed car parts, the ING report says, will increase jobs at U.S. automotive factories. That’s good news for Chrysler, Ford, and even high-tech car manufacturers like Tesla, and also good news for average workers who have been faced with unemployment in recent years.

But for international companies and sectors engaged in trading with the U.S., the additive manufacturing shakeup could have negative consequences. In the automotive industry, Mexico, Japan, Germany, and Canada all have significant bilateral trade flows with the U.S., but these could be stemmed by an increase in localized 3D printing production.

3D printing will have a huge impact on global automotive trade, with the U.S. lowering its trade deficits as a result

In the industrial machinery and consumer products markets, China could be badly hit, with the Asian country the “main origin” of these goods, many of which end up in the U.S.

The cumulative effect of these changing trade relations could ultimately see a lowering of U.S. trade deficits.

“The direction of flows in the most important 3D printing industries will lower US trade deficits with Mexico and Germany (automotive) and China (machines, consumer products), all large contributors to the US trade deficit,” the report states, adding that countries “with a surplus in manufacturing trade will see their surpluses shrink, especially if they currently export many products that will be 3D printed in the near future.”

Interestingly, ING supplemented the information it gathered by interviewing various key players in the 3D printing industry, including Eric Sas, CFO of Dutch 3D printer company Ultimaker, and Lauren Slowik, Design Evangelist for Education at 3D printing service Shapeways. Sas was cautiously optimistic about 3D printing growth, though he did foresee “hurdles” to overcome, while Slowik warned of the high current entry cost for 3D printing.

The report offers the following conclusion: “Once 3D printing becomes widely applicable and economically viable for mass production it will boost ‘local for local’ production with 3D printers at the expense of imports. The first steps in the direction of high speed printing have been taken but it is uncertain when and to what extent high speed/mass production with 3D printers is possible in all industries.”

So while 3D printing really could be a “threat” to global trade, one can also see it as a godsend for localized production. That will obviously be good for the biggest importers and bad, at first, for the biggest exporters, though hopefully additive manufacturing will provide enough jobs to compensate for those lost through minimized trade.

Interestingly, the U.S. might not even be the biggest winner if ING’s forecasts turn out to be correct.

The report doesn’t go into it, but reduced cross-border trade would be a fantastic boost for the environment. Additive manufacturing on a mass scale does require a lot of power, but the elimination of global shipping could be hugely significant, and could have a big impact on efforts to reduce global carbon emissions.

Looking at those consequences in detail, however, is a report for another day.

“3D printing: a threat to global trade” was published on September 28.



Posted in Statistics



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