by Bill Decker, of the 3D Printing Channel
As the uncle of 3D printing, I’m entitled to my opinion. The whole world is talking about 3D printing and many of us are starting to believe that the United States will not dominate this reinvented industry.
There are many reasons for this. The first is the litigious nature of the United States. The initial thought on legal matters is that the United States seems to have more lawyers and lawsuits than the rest of the world combined. This isn’t a good or a bad thing, just a thought that when looking at the USA, the high probability of litigation can offset the notion that the USA is the “world’s largest market.”
There’s an old lawyer’s joke:
If you buy a can of dog food and your dog eating it gets sick, whom do you sue?
The answer? Everybody.
Imagine if somebody were to print out a washer for a vacuum cleaner at the local hardware store. The store prints it out and the customer puts this washer in his vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner blows up and hurts somebody. I know this is a ridiculous scenario, but it could happen – or the vacuum cleaner simply burns the rug or perhaps it catches fire.
Well, the customer is not a licensed installer, so clearly he doesn’t necessarily know what he is doing. So goes the presumption. Should he have had that special washer in the first place?
However, the hardware store may not have printed this correctly. Did it have the correct printing materials? Was the technician who printed this washer properly trained? Then, one has to examine where the hardware store got the washer design. Take it a step further and start to look at the source of where that blueprint or design drawing was housed. Were the drawings in any way compromised? Was it purchased or were royalties paid? What website was it? Was it the equipment manufacturer’s website or was it a third-party website selling the washers? Did the manufacturer put the drawings up correctly? Were there glitches or unforeseen circumstances that they simply did not address? So, if there were an accident with this vacuum cleaner, it would be a whole slew of people that could be sued.
This is nothing new in the USA. People buy insurance for this and large companies retain lawyers. However, small business people may not know about this insurance or they may not be able to afford it. They may have purchased the wrong policy and if they have to retain legal staff, they may choose not to get into the business at all!
The Dutch are the world masters in this type of business. And right now The Netherlands is ahead of the USA in 3D printing.
The third reason that the USA may not get the pole position in the industry is that companies that rely on expensive labor will embrace the technology faster.
In much of Europe, the labor laws make it difficult to fire people, painful to cut wages in hard economic times, impossible to eliminate health insurance, and completely unacceptable to slash or deny benefits. The “social cost” of doing business in Western Europe already keeps many manufacturers out of the labor pool. Strong government subsidies often are necessary to lure firms into Europe. In the USA, employers often enjoy “employment at will” status, meaning the will of the employer. In lay terms an employer can hire someone and fire him or her the next day, with no benefits, no compensation, no reason, no birthday card, no cake.
In Europe, many employees cannot be terminated. And if employees are terminated, they still often receive a high percentage of their paychecks and all of their benefits. That’s part of the definition of socialism.
With 3D printing, an employer can have a machine do a person’s job. The machine doesn’t get sick. The machine doesn’t require five weeks’ vacation. The machine can run 24 hours per day and can be moved to another region or country without disrupting an employee’s family. 3D printing offers a way to manufacture close to a client’s location as well as market opportunities that aren’t hamstrung by labor costs. European manufacturers will run to this technology.
The fourth reason the USA may lose the competitive edge is the copycat “we don’t care about your stinking patents” nature of many third world countries. The third world has been hungry too long. And the low entry-cost of this technology, coupled with Ecommerce, allows millions of hungry entrepreneurs to design and print their own products or knock off someone else’s products.
Some guy in Lithuania printing a few iPhone cases may not mean much to us, but to him it could be an entire family’s income. Multiply that by a few million, or a few hundred million. Compare that to a country like the USA, which throws out more food than it eats.
Is there a way to use this information for our own benefit?
For starters, if we are selling stuff, let’s make sure our products, our literature, our promotions, and our specifications are international in standards and in language – that is, multilingual.
When we invent something, let’s ask the question: where are we going to sell it?
When we look for labor, let’s remember we are drawing from an international labor pool.
Hedge the US market. We don’t know when the legislative hammer is coming down.
Set up banking so that we can take payments from other countries.
Have internationally-focused people in the room during R&D, strategic planning, and marketing meetings.
Think of high labor-cost markets as clients.
Remember a phone case is not a phone case is not a phone case. Different markets have different product-localization needs.
And this is just the beginning. Build this idea of international markets and labor into your strategic plan, which is discussed in the next chapter of 3D Printing Book: How to 3D Print Money.