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Labor, Unions and 3D Printing

(Arbitrage) For some, this new and more efficient way of manufacturing seems to herald a bleak future. In January, the Associated Press reported that “almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages.” The reason for this disappearance: “Those jobs are being replaced…by machines and software that can do the same work better and cheaper.”

Indeed — 3D printing is rife in the global jobs debate. Not all agree that its impact is wholly negative, though — for many, it could also be a boon. But whatever the case, its potential to disrupt traditional manufacturing processes is as large as the technological revolutions currently sweeping industries such as media and telecommunications. Given the global reach of the manufacturing industry, 3D printing’s impact is poised to be even larger.

The process of 3D printing undoubtedly threatens low-wage jobs both at home and overseas, but it also has the potential to complicate higher-value roles.

As 3D printing becomes more widely used, it seems an ambiguity in the definition of labour roles will naturally take root, blurring the lines between areas such as manufacturing, product development and retail services. How people label themselves will affect things like their pay and skill requirements. Health and safety guidelines may also become an issue down the line as more people begin to work with the technology. There currently is little information available on such guidelines.