<< view all Publications

Why should we care about 3D-printing and what are potential security implications?

GCSP Policy Paper 2014/6

Release Date:

September 2014

Download publication

Key points

  • 3D-printing is likely to have a substantial impact on manufacturing processes and society at large over the coming decades. According to a 2013 McKinsey study, 3D-printing could generate an economic impact of $230 to $550 billion per year by 2025.
  • Advantages offered by 3D-printing include opportunities for rapid prototyping, product customization, and a more efficient use of input materials. In addition, 3D-printing can be applied to a range of sectors, spanning healthcare to defense.
  • 3D-printing gives rise to at least four security implications. These are: 1) Printers can be used to print hard-to-trace non-metallic weapons and weapons components; 2) Groups with malicious intent may rely on 3D-printers to print customized platforms, such as unmanned aerial vehicles; 3) Countries of concern may rely on 3D-printers or associated commercial services to by-pass international sanctions; and 4) 3D-printing may give rise to several unintended consequences, for example unauthorised access to sensitive design and modeling software.
  • Given its wide ranging potential, policymakers delving with security and defence issues should begin to gauge the potential security implications of 3D-printing.