Disruptive technologies—such as the Internet of Things, robotics, and three-dimensional (3D) printing—have been heralded as the future of the global manufacturing sector. However, in Africa, they could hinder industrialization and result in fewer entry points into global supply chains. While it may be possible for African nations to “leapfrog” directly to newer technologies, it is more likely that developing the relevant worker know-how, infrastructure, and corporate capabilities necessary to leverage the potential value of these technologies will be a very gradual process. African policy makers must therefore pursue multipronged strategies to ensure relevance as 3D printing and other disruptive technologies move into the mainstream.
A new issue brief by Africa Center Senior Fellow Dr. Aleksandra Gadzala, 3D Printing: Shaping Africa’s Future catalogues the experiences of other countries facing the challenges of widespread 3D printing adoption.
Gadzala argues that, at its core, 3D printing is just another manufacturing process. Yet, over time it could significantly reshape how and where things are made, with far-reaching consequences for economies that rely on low-wage, labor-intensive manufacturing. African countries are not alone; observing how other countries anticipate and prepare for the coming changes may provide valuable lessons. Smart governments are supporting skills training and innovation and diversifying their industries and markets. They are now making the decisions that will later determine their role in a world of 3D printing and automation. In the near term, Africa does not have much to gain from 3D printing, but if its governments do not start to make such decisions now, the continent will have much to lose.