The global community is a witness to some of the most dramatic and disruptive technological shifts. 3D printing has come to change the world, and many of these changes are likely to be irreversible. In the past few years, the 3D printing industry has dramatically expanded, presenting a role model for growth that other industries may want to follow. Despite relatively high costs of investments required to launch 3D technology, many companies have quickly learned the benefit of their investments. This is particularly the case of manufacturing, as 3D printing has changed the very nature of manufacturing, making it more accessible, relevant, and effective.
3D printing has become a buzzword of technological advancement in the new millennium. In fact, the word combination “3D printing” is no longer surprising to anyone. Although the technology is still in early stages and evolving, it has already become a dominant global player, disrupting the continuity of conventional manufacturing processes and providing an impetus for revolutionizing industrial enterprises. It is possible to assume that 3D printing will have a greater role in how global manufacturing will evolve in the coming years. Today, its impacts are already too visible and pervasive to be ignored.
Phototyping, rapid design prototyping, and low volume production are just some of the most outstanding changes facing manufacturing in the era of 3D printing. These impacts are not short-lived, as they require a shift in the very concept of industrial engineering and manufacturing. True, “if the global engineering and manufacturing community plans to keep unlocking the full potential of industrial 3D printing, together they will have to keep rethinking the fundamentals of design engineering and digital factories of the future” (Fox, 2017). What it means is that 3D printing is likely to become an indispensable component of the manufacturing process, which is deeply embedded in the philosophy of engineering and design. For example, it has already proved effective in companies that produce auto parts. Manufacturing businesses readily integrate 3D printing into their manufacturing processes to reduce the time between receiving an order from a customer and delivering the finished product (Hall, 2013). In this sense, 3D printing is particularly disruptive, because manufacturing will never be the same again. It holds a huge promise for numerous small and large enterprises that currently work in the manufacturing industry.
Speaking of Ethiopia, the effects of 3D printing on manufacturing are likely to be two-fold. On the one hand, it has the potential to change the face of Ethiopian manufacturing and provide a space for meeting the industrial production needs of Ethiopian consumers, companies, and organizations. On the other hand, 3D printing promises to turn Ethiopia into Africa’s manufacturing hub. However, the Ethiopian government should be more proactive pushing 3D printing to the forefront to be able to benefit from it and make these benefits available.
What does 3D printing have to give to Ethiopia? The answer is likely to be two-fold. On the one hand, it is like a breath of fresh air for companies, organizations and customers who are not satisfied with the way traditional manufacturing in Ethiopia works. 3D printing could become a perfect investment for Ethiopian manufacturers that want to outperform their rivals. It could become an alternative to costly and not always environmentally friendly manufacturing processes and imported spare parts. In critical situations, 3D printing can become a potent strategy for closing manufacturing and product gaps. This is precisely what happened in Ethiopia when the electric grid in Welga hospital went down (Newman, 2013). A defective turbine was the main cause of the problem (Newman, 2013). The hospital could not afford to purchase a new one. 3D printing was used to manufacture a new turbine wheel; as a result, the hospital has acquired a full and reliable electricity system that guarantees the continuity of its medical and administrative operations (Newman, 2013). At other time, manufacturers would have to engage a whole unit and a whole lot of equipment to create, produce, and refine the essential piece. With 3D printing, there is no need for manual work, which is why the resulting products are much more accurate and reliable than the ones produced using conventional equipment.
On the other hand, 3D printing could become a driver behind making Ethiopia a new manufacturing hub for Africa. For years, manufacturing has been one of the least developed and most slowly developing industries in the African continent and in particular Ethiopia. However, Ethiopia went ahead to open large industrial parks that would accommodate many jobs. 3D printing could foster the development of industrial manufacturing in Ethiopia, as the Federal and Regional governments investment and support to industrial projects. It is an opportunity to contribute to Ethiopia’s economy. It is also a chance to help manufacturing companies improve the quality and reduce the costs of their products. 3D printing can lead to the rise of new enterprises; as a result; it will boost job creation and economic growth. However, the success of these initiatives will undoubtedly depend on Ethiopia’s readiness to learn, redesign manufacturing processes, and provide training and education to future manufacturers.
Ed.’s Note: Samuel Alemu, Esq is a partner at the ILBSG, LLP. His partner at the ILBSG, LLP, Praveen C. Medikundam, Esq contributed to this article. They are both admitted to the bar associations of New York State, United States Tax Court, and the United States Court of International Trade. Samuel can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Samuel Alemu