Can 3D printers create jobs?
It would be unfair to talk about 3D printing and economics without acknowledging that when it comes to 3D printers, it’s very much a case of good news and bad news. For those who read our article on the real threat from 3D printers, you wil be aware of the negative affects 3D printers could bring, and for those who haven’t, 3D printers might at first seem like a job killer, but there is definitely lots of great news for the economy.
Good news, bad news.
The bad news.
The biggest negative impact on the world’s economy comes from the millions of jobs that 3D printers will render obsolete. In what more than likely become an international problem, the ability to create and deliver products on demand means we no longer will have a need for the production and distribution chain of old. From production to retail, 3D printing will be taking a large bite out of the process and with it the jobs of millions.
Manufacturers will no longer be needed, as we will manufacture only what we need, as we need it. Warehouses full of stock and spare parts will lie empty. Packaging designers and makers, shipping companies, distributors and retailers – all will no longer be needed to manufacture and deliver new products.
The good news.
Despite the doom and gloom of the ‘bad news’, there is still lots to be excited about when it comes to 3D printing’s impact on the global economy. Though many doors seem to be closing for people looking for work, this technology brings new ideas and ways of working and with it, new economic opportunities. When the internet moved from being a place to send email to a place to go shopping, home retail therapy brought an end to lots of jobs. Many big businesses felt the impact and some had to shut their doors and close up shop for good. But what the internet also did was create a whole new micro-economy of web designers, internet marketers, technicians, social media mangers, bloggers – the list is almost endless. Millions of people now work exclusively on web content, products or services and some have created multibillion dollar companies almost over night. A silver lining, if ever I saw one.
So what opportunities will 3D printing bring?
3D printer design, development and manufacturing.
First and foremost there is an immediate need for 3D printer design, development and manufacturing. Before 3D printers change anything, they must first be accessible to the public, and new 3D printer manufacturers are popping up every couple of months. The big 3 of 3D printing (3D Systems, Stratasys and MakerBot) are not, by any means, small companies and they are growing bigger every year, employing thousands of people collectively. Both 3D Systems and Stratasys have seen their share prices rise considerably over the past year as investment into 3D printing grows.
3D printer filament and supplies.
If you remember getting your first home inkjet printer, you’ll know it’s not the printers that end up costing you – the ink is where they getcha. For every printer there is some form of ‘ink’, and with 3D printers that ‘ink’ is called the filament. These 3D printer supplies are becoming much more sophisticated than simply melted down plastic and are beginning to include types of metals and synthetic wood. All of those products will need to be developed, manufactured and distributed. You can’t print filament, after all.
Bespoke, on-demand product distribution.
So you have a printer and you have filament, so you’re ready, right? Wrong. You still need a 3D file of a mesh or model to print out. Some people will design and make their own 3D models, but for most, 3D files will be bought from someone or somewhere else. This has already sparked a new community and industry of ‘makers’ who create 3D models to be bought and downloaded online, and the demand for these models is sure to grow. While demand is currently low, as the sophistication of what can be printed at home increases there will undoubtedly be a need for an ‘iTunes’ of 3D models.
A whole world of potential new products in need of designing.
Before these 3D files can be distributed, someone has to design and develop the products themselves. After 3D printing destroys the packaging design industry, the creative world will get a huge opportunity upgrade. The possibilities for product designers and 3D software operators will be huge as companies adjust to the major impact of 3D printing.
Reduced overhead for new product development.
Along with streamlining the manufacturing and distribution process, industrial 3D printers, like those made by 3D Systems, are greatly reducing the cost of designing and developing new products. Prototypes can be quickly, accurately and cheaply produced, enabling designers to test, modify and refine their designs in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. This reduction in overhead can develop and deliver products to consumers cheaper than ever, leaving more money to pay staff wages and keep prices low.
Getting existing companies ‘3D printer ready’.
Just like when the internet first made its way into mainstream business and retail, traditional ‘high street’ companies didn’t just close up shop, they took up the reigns and got online. Every company you could think of wanted a website and now it’s rare to find one that doesn’t have one. The same will be the case with 3D printing. As companies see the popularity of 3D printers grow, everyone will be chomping at the bit to have their own downloadable and 3D printable products. While there will be many new start ups as a result of any new technology, there will be a huge demand for people to create the infrastructure of services to enable existing businesses to offer 3D printable products.
New business models.
Self employment through ‘on-demand stores’ like Etsy.
With no need to manufacture or distribute huge numbers of products to hold stock, more and more small online businesses are emerging and offering creative people the opportunity to make a living from their work. For some time, websites like Etsy have been a place for bespoke and handmade products to be advertised and sold, but they will also provide a great venue for 3D printing, enabling short-run and one-off products. These online opportunities are fueling a growing community of internet entrepreneurs, creating new businesses and new job opportunities.
3D designers – sell your 3D models for others to print.
Ever had a great idea for a product but no money to get it off the ground? With 3D printing, anyone can build their designs in 3D software and then make the files available through services like Shapeways and start making money from their ideas. Each time someone downloads or orders your design to be printed, you get paid. For great designers, the opportunities are limitless with a global audience and almost no overhead.