3D printing and the adoption of new technologies in the workplace


3D printing is in its infancy as a new technology, and its widespread adoption is yet to take off. Although certain industries are increasing its use of 3D printing and embedding the technology in the workplace, including clothing, manufacturing, construction and even medicine (building prosthetics and biotechnology).

In the next decade, I expect 3D printing to take off in a big way, across multiple industries, with increasing likeliness that adoption of 3D printing will change the landscape of employment in a number of ways, introducing new challenges.

Two areas I predict will come under major scrutiny in organisations incorporating this new technology includes:

  • Adoption of 3D printing will invariably result in potential restructures as organisations embed the technology into their workflows. This will result in the cessation of certain functions, and possibly jobs, as well as a need for new skills – particularly design and operating skills. Experience will command a premium in the early days. Internal production will also bring to an end some outsourcing of work, especially to 3rd party suppliers. This will have a big impact in industries such as clothing, where manufacturing is nearly all done overseas
  • The introduction of 3D printing will unfortunately result in redundancies as it replaces certain roles. 3D printing is an industrial robot, and we could use multiple examples of cases where robots and automation is replacing manual labour – Amazon as the perfect example. Companies will need to ensure that there is a business rationale behind the adoption of robots into the workplace, particularly if they are to replace people. I hope that 3D printing creates as many jobs as it takes away – including creative jobs in areas such as marketing and design, shifting jobs further down to end-to-end product cycle.

Although this case is really for larger businesses and how HR professional need to become ‘champions of change’, I am of the opinion that in small businesses this responsibility sits with the owner/manager. Small businesses need to look at their own internal HR strategy and make sure that their business is robust and flexible enough to make the changes required for adoption of new technologies and changes in skills. From an employment law perspective, businesses should be sure employee contracts both protect the employer against change, as well as enforcing such change when it comes.