3D printing poses a risk to 2%-4% of airfreight volumes

Fears over 3D printing are unfounded in that the technology is unlikely to eat into airfreight volumes in a significant way, conference goers in Brussels heard on September 26.
That’s because 3D printing is best suited to a limited number of products, in particular those that need customisation.
Talking at the Air Cargo Handling Conference in the Belgian capital, Ludwig Hausmann, a partner at McKinsey & Company, estimated that between 2% and 4% of existing air cargo volumes were “at risk”.
Furniture is one sector which could be printed rather than shipped by 2025, Hausmann said. The high demand for customised furniture means 3D printing could make sizeable inroads. Around 14% of all airfreight falls into this category.
Toys and games are two other categories of manufactured goods that might be at risk, but other than these three, pickings for 3D printing are meagre, Hausmann said. “Between 2% and 4% or maybe 5% of all cargo has the potential to be 3D-printed,” he told conference attendees.
Rather than fall foul of technological change, the airfreight industry was more likely to be impacted by trade wars, though even here the news was not all bad.
Growth in world trade is currently running at 1.4 times GDP growth, it was reported. If the US-China trade war worsens, as many now expect, this multiplier will go down to 1.3. If the US under President Trump expands its “go it alone” trade policy, in essence imposing tariffs on all trade partners, the multiplier will fall further, perhaps to 1. While still a world trade powerhouse, the rise of Asia will mitigate the effects of US isolationism.
“Trade that does not involve the US is still big enough,” Hausmann said. 
The air cargo market is predicted to rise from today’s level of 63m tonnes to 77m by 2025: that’s 3% annual growth.
Fleet capacity is set to rise by around the same percentage, though there will be some pressure on yields as the share of belly capacity moves ahead of freighter capacity. Airport capacity could be a constraint, though demand should drive investment, Hausmann predicted.
E-commerce is another factor driving growth, though more on inter-continental routes than intra-European routes, where much cargo is trucked.
Here lies a danger that worried many of the attendees at this year’s Air Cargo Handling Conference. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has announced its goal of delivering any product to any customer anywhere in the world within 72 hours, a statement that is certain to lead to a confrontation with both integrators and the traditional air cargo industry if it continues its own investments in logistics.
Tech giants come with deep pockets: the profits of Google are larger than the profits of the entire air cargo industry, Hausmann said. Many executives are braced for a wave of disruption.

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