LONDON—Additive manufacturing is a disruptive technology that is transforming the manufacturing world. It’s also having an impact on the logistics industry.
According to a recent report from Fitch Ratings Ltd., a company that specializes in commercial credit ratings and research, ports in China, the United States and elsewhere may be exposed to the disruptive effects of 3D printing (3DP) technology on transportation infrastructure assets over the next 20 years.
“[Additive manufacturing] could reduce global trade, including reducing U.S. imports from China by 10 percent to 25 percent,” says George Abbatt, director of global infrastructure and project finance at Fitch Ratings. “Short- and medium-term risks are limited due to a still emerging technology uptake.
“We expect 3DP to grow significantly over the next 20 years, potentially reaching about 3 percent of total global manufacturing,” explains Abbatt. “[The technology] is less labor intensive than traditional manufacturing and could reduce reliance on lower-wage countries for product assembly, which is a key driver of the U.S.-China bilateral trade imbalance.
“In addition, as mass production via 3DP becomes more economically feasible, supply chains could be shortened with more manufacturing carried out locally,” Abbatt points out. “Net goods transportation may reduce as a result, negatively affecting transportation infrastructure’s revenue. Ports, which primarily handle the transportation of cargo rather than passengers and account for the majority of international goods transportation, may be the most affected by 3DP.
“If trade protectionism continues to intensify, businesses in the U.S. and China may have a strong incentive to adopt processes that facilitate domestic goods production, including 3DP,” notes Abbatt. “This could help the U.S. reduce its bilateral trade deficit with China.
“The bulk of U.S. imports from China are products that, based on recent technological advancements, are well suited for 3DP,” says Abbatt. “These imports include machinery and electronic equipment, such as computers and mobile phones. We expect that 20 percent to 50 percent of these goods can be produced domestically.
“However, some forms of traditional mass manufacturing are likely to remain in place due to cost efficiencies, which may limit the impact of 3D printing on international trade,” claims Abbatt. “Furthermore, the effect is likely to be mitigated by an increase in transportation of materials to be used in [additive manufacturing].”