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Research Questions

  1. What is the technology availability (TAV) for additive manufacturing in the next ten years?
  2. How will science and technology maturity; use case, demand, and market forces; resources; policy, legal, ethical, and regulatory impediments; and technology accessibility change during this ten-year period?
  3. What risks and scenarios (RS) (the latter consisting of threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences) is additive manufacturing likely to present in the next ten years?

Additive manufacturing (AM) or three-dimensional (3D) printing has become technologically mature, accessible, and available and is exponentially proliferating for licit and illicit uses. Complementary technological advancements in materials science, computer-aided design, and artificial intelligence contribute to this growth, and the availability of more 3D printing materials and techniques has enabled more sophisticated use cases.

The distributed nature of 3D printing allows the development of purpose-built technologies and decentralized manufacturing, rapid prototyping, and proliferation of basic but tailorable designs. With the lower costs and growing availability of 3D printers, materials, and software, 3D printing will replace some traditional manufacturing, including for illicit purposes. AM permits order-on-demand manufacturing and could make supply chains less global and more localized. Countering proliferation of potentially dangerous products and technologies will shift interdiction efforts from end products and physical technologies to software and intellectual property. Regulations and export control will need to stop proliferation of computer-aided designs for products and counterfeits and of subpar products that could affect consumer safety.

AM for legitimate commercial purposes will continue to grow. Additively manufactured components, some with untested and unknown failure rates, will likely be incorporated into end products, potentially resulting in catastrophic failures. The 2013 creation of a 3D printed gun illustrated the potential for illicit use cases to threaten national security. In this report, researchers focus on the commercial use of AM and the risks posed by counterfeiting because of the less visible but significant effects that it could have on economic prosperity and national security.

Key Findings

  • Additive manufacturing is not a new technology, but it is a rapidly growing field with increasing prospects for additional use cases and continued growth.
  • The technology is continuing to mature. This maturation results from the intersection of improved 3D printers and newly available materials.
  • Although the number and type of use cases of additive manufacturing will continue to grow, as evidenced by predictions of more than a 24-percent annual increase in revenue from 2022 to 2030, additive manufacturing will likely remain focused largely in a handful of key areas.
  • Counterfeits made through additive manufacturing will have implications for product safety, the economy, intellectual property, and illicit or banned products, among other things.
  • Advances in additive manufacturing will continue to be fueled by scientific discovery and technology development in converging areas, such as artificial intelligence, materials sciences, biology, chemistry, and nanotechnology. These converging technologies have the potential to dramatically increase the annual growth projections for additive manufacturing, which could result in a corresponding increase in associated risks, including for counterfeiting.

This research was sponsored by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate and conducted in the Management, Technology, and Capabilities Program of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.