Ports and terminals could be exposed to the most “disruptive effects” of 3D printing (3DP) on transportation infrastructure, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings.
The findings of the study, which focuses on the potential impact of 3DP over the next 20 years, reveal a possible reduction in global trade, including a 10-25% decrease in US imports from China.
Despite its forecast, Fitch has asserted that the short- and medium-term risks of 3DP’s development are limited due to the technology uptake currently being limited.
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During the next two decades, however, Fitch believes 3DP could eventually account for approximately 3% of global manufacturing worldwide, especially as it is less labour-intensive than traditional manufacturing.
In addition to this, the potential for 3DP to reduce reliance on lower-wage countries for product assembly – a “key driver of the US-China bilateral trade imbalance” – may also have a significant effect on global trade.
As mass production becomes economically viable with the rise of 3DP, supply chains are expected to shorten with manufacturing taking place locally; net goods transportation may fall as a consequence.
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If this impact occurs, the revenue of transportation infrastructure – including the ports sector – would be negatively affected.
This movement may also be precipitated by the continuing trade conflict and protectionism policies pursued by the US and China, as this climate of hostility will encourage higher levels of domestic goods production.
With the bulk of US imports from China including machinery and electronic equipment, such as computers and mobile phones, 3DP would be especially suited to plugging the gap that could emerge as a result of the trade war.