From smiling to smirking? 3D printing, upgrading and the restructuring of global value chains

3D printing (3DP) has been heralded as a revolutionary technology that can alter the way production is organized across time and space – with important redistributive effects on geography and size of production activities. In this article, we examine the impacts that a widespread adoption of 3DP could have on restructuring, upgrading and distributing value added along manufacturing global value chains (GVC) – with brief examples from the aerospace and automotive industries. We highlight two possible scenarios for GVCs – a complementarity scenario of 3DP and traditional manufacturing overlapping, which would reproduce power relations in GVCs and the current distribution of value added in a ‘smiling curve’; and a substitution scenario of 3DP partly or fully superseding traditional manufacturing, which would have more transformational effects in terms of ‘rebundling’ activities, regionalizing or localizing GVCs, and flattening the smiling curve into a ‘smirk’.

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