?When robots are capable of assembling components created by 3D printing technologies,
it becomes possible to have zero human labor on an assembly line.? ?Alex Cho
It?s a thought that is breaking into awareness for a growing number of people: No assembly lines, as we know them today; and a mortal blow to the supply chain, as we know it today.
The incendiary that set these heretofore unthinkable ideas into the realm of the possible?and just maybe, as some now claim, the realm of the inevitable, was, of course, 3D printing.
These ?unthinkable? ideas certainly burn brightly in the mind of Alex Cho, who has been doing some serious noodling over the concept of goodbye supply chain.
In a lengthy and penetrating article in Seeking Alpha, Cho reels out a string of researches that he?s put together with precision and boldness.
At the very least, Cho?s piece is a thought-provoking, four-thousand-word excursion into what may come to pass.
?I believe that the economics of manufacturing will become similar to our current agrarian society and that the labor force for manufacturing will become near non-existent.
Productivity gains from robotics and 3D printing technologies will become more pronounced over the next ten years. I believe that 3D printing and robotics will retain a durable advantage for many years to come.?
Okay, that was heavy duty, especially when one considers that barely 2 percent of the U.S. population is on the farm today.
?Given a long enough of a time-frame, I am willing to estimate that standard manufacturing will die. Meaning that manufacturing will not be based on specialization, but rather it will become a perfectly competitive marketplace. The point at which this will happen is when industrial scale 3D printers are able to produce any product at lower cost than any labor-based (including China) manufacturing line. Meaning, that a 3D printer would have to be more cost competitive than any type of specialized manufacturer, like HonHai Precision, or Taiwan Semiconductor.
?3D Printers aren’t the only thing that would be necessary to replicate the production of a product. You would also need a robot that can assemble products automatically. If you look at a car manufacturing line, robots attach doors to a car and install engines into a car. So not only would a company need to print the individual components and send them down conveyor belts, you would need robots in a factory to assemble specific components into a final product.
?I believe that 3D Printing, therefore, lowers the barrier of entry for smaller manufacturers to co-exist with bigger ones. However, on the downside, up-front CAPEX, would mean that it’s still a business exclusive to companies who have a lot of up-front investment capital. So, while I have been able to imagine a reality where, in theory, manufacturing can become more cost competitive due to 3D printing, in practical application, it’s still a bit of a far-fetch to expect a perfectly competitive marketplace in the next five to ten years.?
An aside from Credit Suisse
Julian Mitchell from Credit Suisse adds some projected growth figures and pinpoints which markets will be the hottest in Cho?s 3D printing/robotics scenario:
“Most corporate guidance defaults to the assumptions of industry consultants who estimate that the 3D printing market will grow at ~20% annually. We challenge this assumption and attempt to quantify the addressable market by investigating the opportunities within key verticals such as aerospace, automotive, health care, and consumer. We conclude that these four markets alone (which comprise ~ 50% of the AM market today) represent sufficient opportunity to sustain 20-30% annual revenue growth, bolstered by the technology?s transition from prototyping to end-use parts and expansion into metals.”
Back to Cho
?According to Gartner’s cycle of emerging technologies, it will take five-years for enterprise 3D printing to reach the point of productivity. Also, mobile robot technologies are expected to reach the point of productivity after ten years. So, in summary, I expect cannibalization of the standard manufacturing workforce/equipment after ten years.?
So, over the next ten years we will see the convergence of 3D printing with mobile robotics, which, in turn, will begin the downward spiral to ?zero human labor on an assembly line,? which for the highly industrialized world he?s projects as taking place around 2040, and for underdeveloped societies by 2070.
?3D printing technology will remain as one of the most disruptive technologies that will hit our economy in the coming years ahead.,? predicts Cho. ?Also, it pains me to say this, but those that do not have specialized skills and knowledge will struggle financially. So, for some, this may be an investment opportunity, but for others this should be a wake-up call to take higher-education seriously, and earn a degree in something that will have value in our intellectual market place.?
Here?s a video of Elon Musk showing us exactly the process of change that Cho describes in his article.