3D Printing: An Economic Revolution?

Mark Esposito, a professor and researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management, has been studying the potential economic impact of 3D printing on a global level. His work highlights 3D printing's potential to revolutionize our economic models and modes of production.


3D printing could mark the beginning of a new era. The technology, which can produce a variety of products by sequentially depositing layers of material, has drawn the attention of many sectors. Whether it's to make simple objects such as a rubber ducky or vastly more complex ones such as airplane parts, houses, musical instruments, food or even human organs, the potential of 3D printing seems limitless.

This technology is being developed at a time when industrial countries are dealing with the effects of relocating their production units to developing countries such as China, where costs are lower. Such a context has led to job loss and reduced competitivity for these countries. In addition, companies are facing increased pressure from consumers and regulatory agencies to rethink their social and environmental strategies.

A chance to put local back in the economy

"3D printing will allow companies to keep their production at home. They will not even have to be located in urban centers." explains Mark Esposito. This will allow for job creation and also lessen dependence on countries whose standards and production conditions are not always in line with consumers' demands in terms of the environment and social conditions. "This technology will also redefine relations on a worldwide level and change the geopolitics of our economies."

Matching demand and supply

One of the advantages of 3D printing is that it will help companies better manage their stock. The technology could potential allow companies to produce just enough to meet market demands. Traditional production is based on low costs and large scale production. 3D printing on the other hand makes it possible to produce unique pieces or small quantities of an object. As a result, entrepreneurs and start ups will also be able to develop new models at lower costs.

An impact across the value chain  

"The entire value chain will be impacted by 3D printing. You have to know where to start. Then, little by little, you test and change how you produce goods." explains Mark Esposito. The key to integrating 3D printing in future businesses will be to identify where the technology could best be applied. 

A new economic model

"We are going to see the creation of producer-consumer groups who will come together to meet their needs. A system where participants will propose ideas, concepts, materials and products." adds Mark Esposito. In this context, business leaders will have to unite these groups in their ecosystem and offer them new opportunities and added value.

For the time being, 3D printers are still expensive investments worth up to 30,000 euros. However, over time the cost should become accessible much like paper and ink printers have become widely accessible. It is up to companies to find ways to evolve with the advent of this new technology.