4. The future of 3D printing is bright.
Far from replacing outsourced manufacturing, 3D printing could have a huge impact on how online stores and retailers source products in the future. Today, the technology is mainly used for producing highly customized parts and pre-production prototypes. However, as the cost of 3D printers and each printed unit go down, it is increasingly moving towards replacing traditional mass production. In fact, development is moving so fast, that certain industries could become disrupted within this or the next decade.
3D printing is contributing to the rise to a new generation of “makers” creating consumer products in the same way as the personal computer and the Internet led to the boom of IT startups in the 1990s and 2000s. Think of it as manufacturing for the Internet age — the next generation will run mini factories from their university dorms.
It’s also a subject of controversy. Projects such as “Wiki Weapon” have been heavily criticized and online piracy will get a whole new meaning when counterfeit items can be printed in the living room.
5. What’s left for China?
Few deny that China is under a lot pressure from emerging “manufacturing” nations and new technologies. On the other hand, China has a large support industry and can offer a huge selection of products that smaller nations cannot.
Products which are hard to put into an automated production line are also likely to remain profitable in China for some time to come. Already the world’s largest eCommerce market, China is increasingly becoming an interesting export market itself for small businesses.
The coming re-balancing of global trade will have a huge impact on how businesses of all sizes source products. Localized production, lowered quantity requirements, new manufacturing technology, shorter lead times and an open world market will certainly make life interesting for entrepreneurs in the coming years.
Fredrik Grönkvist is the Co-Founder and Limited Partner of ChinaImportal.com, a Shanghai based information services company who provides startups and small businesses with an online system for managing sourcing and production in China and other Asian countries. Connect with Fredrik Grönkvist on Google+ and Twitter.
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