3D Printing New Jobs

John Hornick, Author, 3D Printing Will Rock the World

3D Printing New Jobs

One Machine Does It All

US manufacturing output has steadily increased since the end of World War II, but manufacturing jobs peaked around 1975 and have been declining ever since. This means that US manufacturers have become very efficient, making more things with fewer people. But as we lose jobs to faraway places, a big question arises: What are Americans to do for work? As I explain in my new book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World (available on Amazon or Kindle), 3D printing may be a big part of the answer to that question.

Bringing jobs home

Because 3D printers can make entire products with fewer machines and fewer people, they can eliminate the benefits of making things where labor is cheap. The implications are obvious: more manufacturing in America, but not many jobs running the machines. Ten manufacturing jobs lost in low-wage countries may create only one job in a 3D printing economy. To the optimist, that is one more manufacturing job than we had without 3D printing. To the pessimist, we still need nine more jobs. But if the part is made in America by a local worker operating the 3D printer, most of the supply and distribution chain will be here too.

Regional and Distributed Manufacturing

Because chasing cheap labor is unnecessary in a 3D printed world, this technology can break the grip of centralized manufacturing. As 3D printers become more and more capable of making almost any finished product, centralized mass production may no longer be needed. 3D printing will pull manufacturing away from the manufacturing hubs and redistribute it, product by product, among thousands or tens of thousands of smaller, regional factories across the globe.

End of the line

The days of thousands of unskilled American factory workers performing highly repetitive, mindless tasks along an assembly line are gone for good. The factory of the future will be inhabited mostly by 3D printers, robots, and other advanced machines, all driven by software.

As technology advances, there will be little place on the factory floor for unskilled workers. This is true today. Between October 2008, when the world economic crisis began, and mid-2014, the US unemployment rate hovered in the 6–10% range. During that same time period, the unemployment rate for college-educated workers was only about 3–5%.

Think about the horse

So if 3D printing factories will not employ many people and most of the jobs will be for skilled workers, how will 3D printing spark a manufacturing renaissance and bring jobs home? Think about the horse. When the horse was the main form of transportation, there were many horse-related jobs. When the automobile came along, most of those jobs were lost. But think of how many new jobs were created by the invention of the automobile. 3D printing has the same potential.

New Businesses, New Jobs

3D printing will spawn businesses, products, services, and jobs that are as unimaginable today as the auto industry was at the dawn of the twentieth century. Of course my crystal ball is not perfect, but some types of 3D printing-related jobs are suggested by its strengths.

Regional manufacturing means most players will be independent fabricators. A growing number of 3D printing fabricators can be found throughout the world. 3D printing fabricators are the regional and distributed manufacturers of the 3D printing age. They are the employers of the factory workers of the 3D printing–fueled manufacturing renaissance. Individually, they may not employ a large number of people, but together they will be a major source of factory jobs.

Computer programmers in the 3D printing job market will be like kids in a candy shop. They will be in high demand to write, update, and manage software to meet 3D printing–related software needs for customization, design, manufacturing, quality control, and many other needs yet to be discovered.

Skilled 3D printing–related jobs soared 1,384 percent from 2010 to 2014 and were up 103 percent from 2013 to 2014. The three jobs most in demand were industrial and mechanical engineers and software developers.

Making Us Makers, Again

We are all makers at heart. For all of human history, except the last hundred years or so, when people needed something they made it. Then came the industrial revolution and eventually we became buyers, not makers. Makers and small businesses are the key to job creation. A quarter of US manufacturing companies employ fewer than five people and 60% of new jobs generated from 2009 to 2013 were created by small businesses. 3D printing can take us back to our maker roots, fostering technical innovation, new businesses, and jobs we never heard of.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

About the Author

John Hornick is a partner with the Finnegan IP law firm, based in Washington, DC and the author of the new book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World.  As the founder of Finnegan’s 3D Printing Working Group, he advises clients about how 3D printing may affect their businesses. Hornick frequently speaks and writes on 3D printing and has been recognized as a thought leader in this space.