A new report by Fitch Ratings says 3D printing (3DP), sometimes called additive manufacturing, may “negatively affect the transportation industry’s revenue by reducing net goods transportation because it requires less labor than traditional manufacturing and, therefore, could reduce reliance on lower-wage countries for product assembly.”
“In addition, as mass production via 3D printing becomes more economically feasible, supply chains could be shortened with more manufacturing done near company headquarters,” the bond rating agency said.
3D printing allows parts to be built up by adding small particles of material such as plastic resin, metal or ceramic instead of taking blocks of materials and milling them or molding or casting parts. GE, for example, is manufacturing turbine blades for jet engines using 3D printing.
Fitch said it expects the nascent technology to grow significantly over the next 20 years, potentially reaching an industry value as high as about $600 billion, or about 3% of total global manufacturing, “with a materially higher share for products that are well suited for 3DP.”
“A significant portion of U.S. imports from China are products that, in our view and based on recent technological advancements, are well suited for 3DP, including machinery and electronic equipment such as computers and mobile phones,” it said.
Fitch expects that 20% to 50% of these goods can be produced domestically, which it said could result in a reduction of 10% to 25% in U.S. imports from China.
“We also expect trade relationships between countries in other regions such as Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia and Latin America to be affected,” Fitch said.
Fitch said increased protectionism also could be a catalyst for more businesses to adopt 3D printing as a manufacturing process.