Chapter 4

Tomorrow’s economy of printable products

One of the most commonly asked questions about 3D printing is whether this new technology will create or destroy jobs. Usually I’m asked this by policymakers, local politicians and journalists. After a recent talk on the future of 3D printing at a middle school, I was a little startled when a student raised his hand and asked me, “Will 3D printing help make jobs?”

I gamely explained to the student that there’s not a simple answer to this question. If the past is any indication, 3D printing, like other disruptive technologies, will re-shape the occupational landscape in new and unpredictable ways. I asked his classmates whether they had ever heard of a travel agent. A few had. I described how the Internet made travel agents obsolete, but in return, opened up a new market for travel-related services. Similarly, 3D printing technologies will enable new business models while eradicating others. Some jobs will disappear while entirely new professions will emerge.

Fortunately, the student seemed satisfied with my answer, but his question made me wonder what his generation will witness in their lifetimes. Today 3D printing is already becoming a mainstream tool in industries such as aerospace engineering where product lines involve small batches of complex parts. In the future 3D printing will disrupt the economy in more profound ways. Global supply chains will be replaced by agile and independent small manufacturers able to respond quickly ...

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