3D Printing: Future Impacts

July 3, 2013

This is the second in a three part series on 3D printing. Part 1:  "3D Printing: The State of the Market"Part 3: "3D Printing: Opportunities and Challenges".


What exactly does the future hold for 3D printing? In two words, “creative disruption.” 

The most significant area to be impacted will be the consumer space. McKinsey predicts revenue from 3D printing for consumer goods to be in the range of $100 billion to $300 billion per year by 2025. The consultancy believes that reduced printing costs will translate into lower product prices for consumers, ultimately spurring a larger market. Another big boon will come in the value of customized products, which effectively democratizes mass design and production.  You can expect to see much more along the lines of, say, sneakers that perfectly fit your foot (but without the added cost that such customized products normally bear). On an even more profound scale, you can expect to see printed body parts, derived from a atient’s own cells, being implanted or attached—and without the risk of the patient’s body rejecting it.  

The next order of impact will be in the direct manufacturing of parts in the industrial space, as we’ve already seen. We can expect roughly $100 billion to $200 billion a year on the industrial end by 2025, driven by revenue from those complex, customized parts already being produced (but by then in much greater quantities). Ideally, large-scale manufacturing processes will become more efficient and less wasteful as well, specifically by reducing or removing assembly lines and supply chains. Perhaps more significant in the long-term will be the further development of a “maker” culture of small-scale manufacturers and tinkers. These printers are already building the sort of dynamic, collaborative ecosystem that spurs innovation throughout the market. 

Finally, we’ll see 3D printing make a smaller impact in the creation of tools and molds to the tune of around $30 billion to $50 billion a year by 2025. Design files for these pieces will more accessible than ever—shareable on the Internet around the world, though within necessary constraints of intellectual property. It’s worth mentioning that a key gating factor though will be the spread of CAD design and modeling software to actually read these files. 

The end result of the 3D printing revolution ten or so years now appears to be much more than the creation of significant new wealth. We may also see much more manufacturing taking place closer to core markets and to stores of human capital—this bodes well for American manufacturing, specifically, since it has markets and skills galore. McKinsey confirms this, though the question remains just how many jobs will actually arise: 

Manufacturing could be pulled away from “manufacturing platforms” like China back to the countries where the products are consumed, reducing global economic imbalances as export countries’ surpluses are reduced and importing countries’ reliance on imports shrink. However, may not create many manufacturing jobs, as the 3D printing process is highly automated. 

The United States, which is the current leader in additive manufacturing technology, could ultimately experience a renaissance in innovation, design, exporting, and manufacturing, along with significant disruptions in the status quo. The result? Enhanced economic strength and geopolitical influence for a country struggling on this very point today.

 Part 1:  "3D Printing: The State of the Market"  |   Part 2: "3D Printing: Future Impacts"  |  Part 3: "3D Printing: Opportunities and Challenges"