How is 3D Printing going to affect the creation of wealth?

In a discussion in the 3D Printing group in Linkedin it was stated “Only a few occupations create wealth: farming, mining, manufacturing and banking (artificial creation of value). Services industries move capital around locally and you cannot easily export a service.”

It is a very interesting discussion, since every industry has very different supply chains which involve other industries. The question is: how much value are the services adding within each specific industry?

For instance, let’s take farming. How much value is created by genetic engineering, medicine, pesticides or fertilizers in the farming supply chain? Most of the value in the pharmaceutical industry is created by R&D, not in the actual fabrication of the products. Without this R&D service performed within labs, farming as we know it today wouldn’t even exist.

Now let’s think about mining. What value would lithium mining create without the millions of batteries that were cleverly designed in companies that don’t manufacture anything at all? Most of these companies hire other companies to manufacture the products they design. We need to mine lithium because there are other goods that use it.

In the 21st century value creation is always at the beginning of the supply chain. It’s in the idea and in the design. Most of the money will go to this point in the supply chain. Apple is the biggest company in the world in market cap thanks to its phrase “Designed by Apple in California”. Does it matter if it says “Made in China”, “Made in Brazil” or “Made in” any other country? What is Apple exporting? It isn’t the iPhone, it’s the iPhone design.

Mining, farming and manufacturing by themselves are just commodities that would be nothing without the original idea and design of the products.

The problem is that the design and ideas are today controlled by a small group of highly qualified people. How can we move the creation of value closer to the rest of the world? Simply: with education and technology.

We cannot teach anybody to be a very clever engineer, but we can create an educational framework that generates more entrepreneurs and empowers creativity.

We can also create cheaper and easier to use tools (i.e. 3D Printers) which allow people to design and create products that it would previously have been possible to create only inside very expensive labs.

May be it is wishful thinking, but I believe 3D Printing can decentralise product creation and design, distributing the creation of wealth across a much broader range of people.

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