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3D printing and de-globalization

This evening I stumbled upon an interesting article by T.X. Hammes talking about “de-globalization” and the impacts that this may have on international security. (He served 30 years in the US Marine Corps.)

One of his points is that 3D printing (additive manufacturing) is going to transform not only how things are made, but also where things are made. This is perhaps an obvious point, but it’s valuable to think about what all of this will mean when production moves from global to local.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Currently we ship raw materials to one country. It puts together the sub-assemblies, packs them, and ships them to another country for assembly. There they complete the assembly and packaging, then ship the packaged product onward to the consuming country. With the emergence of additive manufacturing, we will ship smaller quantities of raw materials to a point near the consumer, produce them, and then ship them short distances for consumption. Thus reducing international trade. The localization of energy production and return of high value agriculture to developed nations will further reduce global trade.”

Indeed, UPS seems to be predicting that the international shipping market will be significantly impacted by these shifts and has started investing in 3D printing. But going even further, T.X. Hammes believes that declining trade could dramatically alter the international security picture.

To me, it’s yet another reminder of what Marshall McLuhan was getting at when he argued: “The medium is the message.” Don’t stop at the obvious changes. Look for deeper structural changes. Look for the unanticipated.

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