Every now and then, a new technology gets invented that disrupts the accepted practices of doing thing. The upheaval that this new technology creates, induces lot of uncertainity in the minds of people. Some people ones look forward to the impact the technology creates on humns whereas an equal number of people become very skeptical as it leads to huge job losses and disrupts the accepted practices of doing things. This happened during 1600s when printing press was invented making it redundant to write stuff, same happened when computers were invented in 1980s leading to job losses for type writers and now this will happen will 3D printing.
We have already observed intense debates on impact 3D printing have on the economy. The fundamental pessimistic view on 3D printing is that there will be tens of millions of job losses and the entire jobs market will be decimated as 3D printing automates the whole manufacturing process. So, will 3D printing really lead to job losses as stated. Let us look at each section of the supply chain and figure out how 3D printing affects it.
Raw materials are very fundamental for every product we consume. These are either retrieved from Earth or are produced artificially. And with the advent of 3D printing, the need for different kinds of raw materials increased. Once 3D printing becomes mature, it becomes so cheap and easy to produce things for consumption that more and more goods get produced. And this leads to an increase in the need for raw materials in a big way. And this leads to increase in the jobs of producing raw materials. So, 3D printing actually will have a positive impact on raw materials sector.
It is very obvious that few years down the lane, once 3D printing technology gets matured, there will be significant job losses in the manufacturing industry. Companies increase their capital expenditure to acquire automated machines. But this isn’t something new. From the time mankind existed, he always looked at automating (reducing human effort) the tasks he has been doing. 3D printing is just more step in that direction. Though it does lead to job losses in the traditional manufacturing sector, it creates equal or more number of jobs in various other sector. For example, 3D printing industry requires whole lot of software development, printer production, materials, R&D, maintenance. So, the traditional jobs will perish but in that place new jobs get created. And those jobs require different skill sets..
As with manufacturing, retail will also see major changes. When one can download a shoe design from thousands of designs present on the net and have a shoe printed at his / her home at a fraction of the cost, why would one go and purchase a shoe from a retail store. Of course, it takes decade or two for this to happen but this definitely happens one day. And when this happens, retail outlets are forced to close the shop leading to huge job losses. But again, new kind of retail (or e-tail) jobs get created selling printers, materials and designs.
Definitely millions of jobs will be lost due to 3D printing but for every job lost equal or more number of jobs get created. 3D printing brings down the costs of production substantially. This saving will then be passed to customer leading to a lower cost of living and a better quality of living worldwide. As more money becomes available, that gets spent on innovation which will eventually create millions of new jobs. And we are already seeing thousands of new jobs being created around the 3D printing industry. Moreover, manufacturing will become more local as the automated manufacturing process leads to relocation of plants near to customers.
Summing it all, as with any disruptive technology, 3D printing leads to job losses in millions but at the same time an equal or more number of new jobs get created. These new jobs require completely different skill sets than the existing ones. So, it is upto us to humans to adapt to the fact that change is the only constant in this world and continue to acquire new skill sets throughout the life.
Image Credit: daily sunny (flickr handle: 53558245@N02)