We in the 3D printing industry have known for some time that the technologies can be used to strengthen supply chains and more. This became even more obvious during the pandemic when 3D printing was a critical part of resolving blockages, notably in the medical sector. Now, a new paper from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy has proven this. It shows that not only can 3D printing be used locally to solve issues, but that it has actually helped to expand trade in the past two years.
The study, published in the Journal of International Economics, is named Is 3D printing a threat to global trade? The trade effects you didn’t hear about and was co-authored by Caroline Freund, (economist and dean of the School of Global Policy and Strategy), Alan Mulabdic (economist for the Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions’ Chief Economist’s Office at the World Bank) and Michele Ruta (lead economist at the World Bank). Though overall it sought to study more broadly the impact 3D printing has on trade, it focused specifically on how the production of hearing aids has been impacted by 3D printing, though they also looked at 35 other products including running shoes, aircraft parts and prosthetic limbs as a robustness check for the data.
This newest evidence bolsters what we have already seen, that 3D printing is increasingly being considered a way to strengthen different industries and national economies. Indeed, confidence in the technology has grown so much that earlier this year the Biden Administration even launched the AM Forward Initiative. This voluntary public, private compact was designed to broaden 3D printing usage in American small and medium sized suppliers, focusing especially on struggling manufacturing regions like Ohio. It has already been joined by leading American companies (and early adopters of 3D printing technologies) such as Boeing, Honeywell, GE, Raytheon and Siemens Energy. Now, there is clear proof that 3D printing is worth investing in for the long-term health of international trade as well as local economies.
A Closer Look at the Impact of 3D Printing on Global Trade
What the researchers found was that rather than what they considered to the conventional wisdom that 3D printing would dramatically reduce international trade, in fact it boosted it in this area. For this paper, they were able to study the causal effects of 3D printing after the production of hearing aids shifted primarily to 3D printing in the mid-2000s. What they found was that rather than destroying international trade, exports of hearing aids actually increased by 80% after adoption of the technology.
Essentially, though of course the use of 3D printing changed the production processes, as the manufacturers moved from the more time-consuming traditional methods to additive manufacturing, the supply chains remained intact. And since the increase in exports was only evident after the introduction of the technology, it stands to reason that the main cause behind this was in fact the technology. This is thanks to the fact that 3D printing helped open up the market to more countries beyond just the original innovators and market dominators, Denmark, Switzerland and Singapore. China, Mexico and Vietnam were also shown to increase their share making trade stronger.
Friend concluded, “The technology is a boon, not a curse to trade. A country’s exports of hearing aids increased more than trade in other similar goods following the adoption of 3D printing by manufacturers there. The new production technology in combination with trade means that consumers around the world suffering hearing loss are benefitting from better and often cheaper hearing aids. Policymakers often view 3D printing as a means to shorten supply chains when in fact it is more likely to enhance trade and reshape supply chains.” You can find out more in the paper purchasable HERE or the press release HERE.
What do you think of this latest study? Have you seen evidence of 3D printing’s impact on global trade? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.
*Cover Photo Credits: WTO/Jay Louvion