3D Printing & Jobs — China vs. The United States

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“Let’s bring jobs back to American soil!”

c5This is a quote which numerous Presidents of the United States have used, usually referring to the jobs they seek to return to American soil which had been lost when American companies decided to outsource their manufacturing to economies offering far cheaper labor, namely China.

Whether you like him or not, there is no arguing that Obama has been taking on this challenge head-on in a way which other presidents simply did not have the opportunity to. President Obama is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into improving and helping to spread manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing across the nation through several programs aimed at enhancing America’s technological capabilities.

Over the last year we have heard politicians, economists, and industry analysts all point their finger towards 3D printing as a means to bring manufacturing, and thus jobs, back to America from countries like China where we’ve been outsourcing a large portion of our manufacturing. Yes, 3D printing will eventually make manufacturing more affordable, but does that mean jobs will be created in the US, and that companies will bring much of the manufacturing process back to our soil?

When you take a minute to think about the possible implications from all these changes, there are several ways in which the cookie could crumble. Yes 3D printing will make manufacturing more affordable; not, however, because fewer expensive machines are required during the manufacturing c2process, but instead, because less labor is required. As an example, instead of requiring 3 hours on equipment worth $1 million and 100 labor hours for each automobile that Company XYZ is manufacturing, they will now require perhaps 3-5 hours on equipment valued at about the same price of $1 million and 25 higher skilled labor hours. So now, one of two moves could be made by Company XYZ. They could either move manufacturing back to the US, hiring 25 skilled employees, and purchasing the necessary additive manufacturing equipment for a US facility–or continue to outsource the labor to China, this time needing even fewer Chinese employees, which will also be more affordable than their US counterparts.

Many companies will opt for the second option, using Chinese labor at a reduced price, while saving even more money. The Chinese labor market will suffer somewhat, as those 100 jobs now became just 25 higher paying jobs, while there is no net gain or loss within the US jobs market. Ultimately the cost to produce Company XYZ’s automobiles will fall, thus trickling through to the

c4consumer and helping us all in a way, but ultimately, as long as China keeps up with the United States in their drive to advance 3D printing, there likely will be little net gain in the number of  jobs that additive manufacturing will re-introduce to America, at least in this case.

Don’t get me wrong, if we can remain the leaders within the industry and well ahead of countries like China when it comes to additive manufacturing techniques, the entire example above may be a moot point, but as the way things are currently trending, China is taking additive manufacturing just as seriously as we are here in the US.

3D printing will create many jobs for the America economy, and in fact already has. I just don’t know if it will be the outsource-killer some economists and industry insiders continue to claim. What are your thoughts? Will 3D printing bring jobs that we lost over the last three decades back to American soil, or will it simply create new jobs while we continue to rely on cheap labor on foreign soils? Discuss in the 3D Printing Jobs forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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