Ready or not, there is a sea change coming in manufacturing. It is 3D printing, which is expected to be the next trillion dollar industry; that’s right, $1 trillion within the next 25 years, or the size of all of IT today. According to multiple sources, 3D printing is expected to produce a third of all production by 2020. This is due to the convergence of a maturing 3D technology, cloud computing and cheap computing and microprocessors. Even if the timing of the dollar value is a bit optimistic, the impact to industry can not be understated.
3D printing is of course mass production of parts by “printing them out” by adding layer on top of layer of substrates until a final product is produced. These parts can be made of almost any material, be they fabrics, plastics, metals or even organic materials. And this is not a pipe dream. Today, GE is producing 100,000 jet engine nozzles/year and thousands of other companies from start-ups to consumer names like Adias are routinely producing 3D items. In GE’s case, their engines last 4 times longer, are produced in a quarter of the traditional production time, with far less scrap, inventory and of course, fewer assembly workers. China will be affected due to a combination of the already narrowing of cost, let alone 3D printing, so L/I jobs will still be here but in far fewer and fewer numbers.
Staffing will be experiencing one of the largest impacts in several decades. On the downside those in LI will see a good portion of their LI business declining. On the plus side, the demand for engineers, designers, IT programmers and various other creative types will flourish. But this will be an acceleration of a long-term trend. In 1970 some 20 million people worked in manufacturing, and today it’s 12 million. But staffing has always had to adapt to survive.
The most successful staffing companies become part of the solution. Here are some of the job categories that are expected to capitalize on 3D: commercial artists, creative designers, graphic designers, model makers, material engineers and technicians (metallurgists, ceramics, polymer), chemical engineers and technicians, physicists and mathematicians, computer programmers, information architects, systems analysts, networking engineers, electronics and mechanical technicians, electrical and electro-mechanical engineers and technicians, hydraulic engineers and technicians, hardware engineers and technicians, robotic engineers and technicians, optical engineers and technicians, artificial intelligence experts, test engineers and testers, cost accountants, quality assurance personnel, logistics experts, supply chain managers, copywriters, ergonomic personnel, skilled warehousing/material handlers, technical sales reps/account executives, technical recruiters, material handlers, attorneys and paralegals.
So what will happen to those firms that will be affected by 3D printing and choose to ignore it? The same thing that happens to all companies that choose to disregard change; some will do fine while many others will fail. The question is whether you want to be in a dynamic market or hope to survive in a declining one.