Despite fears, 3D printing has positive effects on global trade, study finds

3D printing technology allows economies to produce goods locally, so conventional wisdom has been that it would significantly reduce international trade However, new research from the University of California San Diego and the World Bank present strong evidence that 3D printing has expanded commerce.

The article co-authored by Caroline Freund, economist and dean of the Faculty of International Policy and System, finds that 3D printing has changed production processes, but supply chains have remained intact. The study is the first to examine the impact of 3D printing on commerce.

Published in the Journal of Intercontinental Economics, the article looks at the production of hearing aids – a commodity most often produced by 3D impact. producers after five years and that technology was the main contributor to the increase in exports.

Freund and his co-authors also examined 35 other products, such as system shoes, airplane parts, and prosthetic limbs that are increasingly being 3D printed, and they found similar models.

“Technology is a boon, not a curse to commerce,” Freund said. “A country’s exports of hearing aids have increased more than the trade of other similar products following the adoption of 3D printing by manufacturers. The new technology of combined production with commerce means that consumers around the world with hearing loss benefit from better and often cheaper hearing. AIDS.”

One of the reasons for this expansion is that printing hearing aids in large quantities requires a significant investment in technology and devices. Countries that were early innovators – Denmark, Switzerland and Singapore – dominate exports of the good, while middle-income economies such as China, Mexico and Vietnam have also been able to significantly increase their market shares.

In addition, hearing aids are lightweight products, which makes them relatively inexpensive to ship internationally. The same is true for the other products examined by the authors – lighter products are associated with greater trade growth.

These results are based on comparisons the growth of 3D printed products compared to other similar products. The authors also considered trends and other factors that could skew the data.

“Policy makers often see 3D printing as a way to shorten production chains supply when in fact it is most vulnerable to improving trade and reshaping supply chains,” said Freund, former global director for trade, investment and competitiveness at the World Bank. .

Although the analysis of the impact of 3D printing on trade is constructive, it can be short-lived. If 3D printers become more accessible to local producers or even consumers in certain sectors, creation could be more localized, hindering opportunities for development through commerce.

L study “Is 3D printing a threat to world trade? Trade Effects You Haven’t Heard Of” is co-authored by Alan Mulabdic, Economist for the Office of the Chief Equitable Growth, Finance and Establishments Economist at the World Bank, and Michele Ruta , Senior Economist at the World Bank.

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