Engineers say 3D printing is poised to significantly alter Canada’s manufacturing workforce.
Nigel Southway, the Toronto chair of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, says 3D printing will “be ready for full implementation and roll-out within the next five years.”
Southway warns of job losses, but some of those losses will be offset by a more skilled workforce.
Learn how 3D printing works
“It’s a fact of life with technology, if it’s a good technology, it will make costs go down and things get more simplified. That means fewer jobs, unfortunately,” Southway said. “It’s not a huge job loss situation. But if we don’t embrace this technology we’ll lose even more, because we’re not going to have the products developed in Canada and we won’t have the option to retain the products we have.”
Statistics Canada’s most recent numbers show manufacturing was worth $49.5 billion in August, down slightly after three months of gains.
‘Can’t afford not to do this’
Southway said the skilled workforce in Canada has to evolve to keep up with the changing technology.
“We can’t afford not to do this. This is a very portable technology. Very soon everyone will have this technology,” Southway said. “If we don’t do it, someone else will and we won’t be in the game.”
Jill Urbanic , an associate professor in the department of mechanical, automotive and materials engineering at the University of Windsor says, “You can always find a negative argument” for any technological development.
“The bottom line is, we have to develop something that people want, that people like, in a cost-competitive manner and in a way that it adds value and you always have to be on top of the latest and greatest technologies,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential. It’s up to us to figure out how to use that potential, that’s where I’m coming from. There are always issues.”
Southway and Urbanic say 3D printing will reduce costs, increase opportunities and encourage innovation.
“It allows an engineer to make a one-off and try something,” Southway said.
“The idea behind it is as limited as your imagination,” Urbanic said.
3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — involves creating a solid object by layering thin slices of material including plastic, metal and ceramic.
The technology has been around for decades but has caught the public eye over the last few years as the technology has become more refined and cheaper.
Manufacturing, he added, is “turning into a button in your browser,” Chris Anderson, author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution told CBC News in May.