Could 3D Printing Threaten Global Trade?

According to a report released in September, current estimates put as much as 50% of manufactured goods will be printed by 2060, which could wipe out almost on-quarter of world trade.

We’re still years (maybe decades) away from the point where companies and consumers are manufacturing lots of goods on demand using 3D printing and additive manufacturing. As 3D printing grows, however, global financial services firm ING warns that it could wipe out a large chunk of global trade.


According to a report released in September, current estimates put as much as 50% of manufactured goods will be printed by 2060–which could wipe out almost on-quarter of world trade.

That reduction comes in the form of less labor and fewer goods shipped internationally as more companies are able to create products on-demand within their own national borders.

And that’s just under a slow-growth scenario. If investment accelerates, as much as two-fifth of global trade could be eliminated.

According to ING’s analysis:

  • Automotive trade from Mexico, Germany, Japan and Canada into the U.S. will be dramatically affected by 3D printing of auto parts.
  • Printed car parts can potentially increase the number of jobs at U.S. factories.
  • Imports of industrial machinery and consumer products into the U.S. could also be affected.

At a macro level, the direction of trade flows will rapidly lower U.S. trade deficits with Mexico, Germany, China and other countries.

Previous reports have also touched on the potential of additive manufacturing to disrupt logistics. According to this 2014 article, third-party logistics companies, cargo handlers, and other companies could potentially shut out of certain parts of the supply chain as more parts are near-sourced and multi-part components are consolidated into a single structure printed in a central facility.

There’s a significant amount of uncertainty in ING’s estimates, given that there is little data available on the value of 3D-printed goods and 3D printing has yet to enable mass production on a large scale across industries.

Once that happens, though, the effect on world trade could be highly disruptive.

“3D printing is good news for politicians that are concerned about their trade deficits. As the share of trade in GDP declines, so will their deficits,” the report concludes. “Especially if the share in total imports of products from the 3D frontrunner industries is above average. This is the case for the US. Besides bringing down the total deficit, 3D printing will especially diminish the politically sensitive US trade deficits with China, Mexico and Germany.”

You can access the report here.

Source: ING

About the Author

Brian Albright's avatar
Brian Albright
Brian Albright is the editorial director of Digital Engineering and a contributor to Robotics 24/7.
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