3D Printing: Increasing Profits While Eliminating Jobs?

Printing Out the World

DW (2020)

Film Review

This documentary literally gushes over 3D printing, which in my mind makes great leaps in eliminating both manufacturing and warehouse jobs. Increasingly the wealthy elite refer to large scale job elimination as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the Great Reset. While aspects of this new technology are both fascinating and exciting (especially for billionaires seeking to increase profits), I find it concerning the film fails to mention the social impact of the mass elimination of jobs.

Recent advances mean that current 3D printers are much faster and less energy intensive than early models. This increases the probability that more manufacturing will return to the industrial North from the Third World, leading to shorter supply chains and eliminating the need for warehouses. Using 3D printing makes it possible to produce spare parts as they are needed, increasing the lifespan of a wide variety of machines. This new technology also has the potential to eliminate overproduction, a traditional bugbear of the capitalist economic system.

The filmmakers visit a major German 3D printer manufacturer and Radius, their US counterpart.

At present 3D printing is used to produce a variety of plastic parts for Airbus, significantly reducing the weight of their aircraft, thereby increasing their fuel efficiency and reducing their carbon emissions. 3D printing is also used to produce soles for Addidas shoes. Although Adidas is headquartered in Germany, the soles (which are printed in Germany) have to be shipped to Asian factories for assembly. 3D printing is also used to produce cellphone cases.

Although most 3D printers use built-up layers of liquified plastic (a major environmental contaminant) in the products they make, it’s also possible to 3D print products out of aluminum and carbon fiber. It’s also possible to 3D print with biodgradable plastic made of cornstarch.

In India, there are projects that recycle the PET from plastic bottles into plastic filaments used to 3D print sung;asses and other produces.