Trade wars will boost digital manufacturing

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Personal 3D printers at consumers’ own homes — is this the future of U.S. manufacturing?

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
The U.S. is in multiple international trade wars. After President Trump ordered higher taxes on some Chinese imports, the Chinese retaliated. The trade dispute now involves as much as US$200 billion worth of Chinese-made goods. Trump has also targeted the European Union, Canada and Mexico with tariffsMost economists disagree with this approach, and nearly all predict the trade wars will raise prices for American consumers on a wide array of products.As an expert in distributed digital manufacturing, I see clearly that one industry stands to gain significantly as these economic conflicts escalate: 3D printing, the process of using digital blueprints to make real physical objects by precisely adding material one thin layer a time. High-end manufacturers have adopted 3D printing as the technology has matured, but there are also low-cost systems consumers can use to save money as prices of everyday purchases climb.

Significant savings

Stroll through any aisle at Walmart and you will notice that a lot of what you can purchase comes from China and is made from plastic, because it simply costs significantly less due to China’s expertise in manufacturing.

Even five years ago, using a 3D printer to create products at home could beat the costs of Chinese-manufactured products by 90 percent or more. A recent study I co-authored found that even inexperienced consumers could make their money back from investing in a $1,250 3D printerwithin six months. By printing just one product a week over the course of five years, a consumer could not only recoup all the costs associated with buying and running the printer: They would save more than $12,000. These savings only increase as trade wars raise prices higher.

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