Is 3D printing a threat to global trade?

At the start of this month, the morning paper ‘Nederlands Dagblad’ dedicated an article to the rise of 3D printing. This new technology can have major consequences for the Netherlands’ role as an import and transit country. In the article, Onno Ponfoort, Berenschot Consultant and specialised in 3D printing, gives his vision on this development.

He confirms the impact 3D printing has on global trade, points out a few advantages, but also provides a dose of reality. “In the traditional manufacturing process, often tens of thousands of units need to be produced of a certain product to make production financially viable - for instance because the costs of the mould need to be recovered. 3D printing makes production of smaller batches profitable, as the units are printed directly. The printing process can also reduce material wastage and thus prevent waste.” Apart from a more efficient production method, 3D printing can also contribute to a lower environmental impact; after all, less transport kilometres need to be covered if products can be printed locally. Ponfoort does not expect that 3D printing will mean the end of mass production. “The demand for personalised products or products that are tailored to a specific function will grow, but it will remain limited compared to mass production. 3D printing is an opportunity rather than a threat for global trade.”

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