The future impact of 3D printing

It was predicted that the adoption of 3D printing technologies will revolutionise manufacturing in Africa and reduce reliance on Indian and Chinese imports. The most disruptive technologies are usually those which are cheap enough to be adopted and used by large numbers of people. 3D printing technology will become increasingly low cost and support cheap and rapid prototyping processes which enable people to swiftly turn ideas into physical tools and products. 3D printers currently produce solid thermoplastic objects, but this could soon expand to cover metal and ceramic objects. Libraries could be key community providers of access to this new technology.

One of the biggest looming issues surrounding 3D printing is the shadow of oppressive international copyright regimes and the likelihood that many innovative and useful functions (particularly in the developing world) will be considered violations of intellectual property rights.

One of the chief sources of China’s economic competitive advantage is not simply low cost labour (many countries offer labour at lower cost) but their capacity to offer rapid prototyping of products. One of the key economic benefits of 3D printing will be to enable many other developing countries to offer this facility.

It was also suggested that low cost 3D printing could also support a greater propensity among consumers to repair products, devices and appliances (if small but crucial replacement parts can be quickly and easily manufactured). However this would depend upon the availability of the digital designs/data files which could support such activity – which may of course be restrained by copyright and IPR regulations.