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John F. Sargent Jr. & R.X. Schwartz, 3D Printing: Overview, Impacts, and the Federal Role (CRS Report R45852) (Aug. 2, 2019) (full-text).


In general, 3D printing has been widely viewed as a driver for American economic development, national security, and combat readiness. At the same time, some have expressed concerns about potential adverse effects of this technology, such as its potential use in the manufacture of firearms or other contraband material by individual criminals, criminal organizations, or terrorists.

3D printing technology is expected to mature substantially in the coming decades to allow the use of new materials, faster production speeds, and lower costs. Prices of consumer 3D printers have fallen by about 80% over the past decade and appear poised to continue to fall. Industrial 3D printing is increasingly an essential part of the U.S. manufacturing portfolio, and it appears to be critical to the nation's upcoming advanced manufacturing strategy.

This report describes the basic parts common to 3D printers and explains the operation of the technology. It also provides a snapshot of current materials and capabilities, traces the historical development of the technology since 1980, provides information on the federal role in 3D printing, communicates the primary properties of 3D printing with reference to manufacturing, explains secondary manufacturing impacts that stem from these properties, and highlights particular issues relevant to Congress.