In the next twenty years: 3D printing along with robotics to replace millions of laborers in ASEAN countries

  • Nimish Sany
  • 21 July , 2016

The United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) has released a report which shows that automation, including 3D printing and robotics in industries could replace millions of laborers in South East Asia within the next twenty years. With about half the workforce in the region under the threat of losing their jobs, age old fear of technology taking over mankind is being put into test.The study named ‘ASEAN in Transformation: How Technology is Changing Jobs and Enterprises’, reveals that 56 percent of the industrial laborers will lose their jobs which will amount to about 137 million workers losing their pay. The prediction is prevalent in textiles and garment industries including clothes, footwear and accessories production where automation is widely in practice, an industry where presence of young women workforce is predominant.

infograph from study

On demand production, customizable options and needs to optimize the supply chain and reduction in costs and time of production has led textile industries o focus on automated technologies such as 3D printing, etc. An excerpt from the study reads, “The footwear industry has begun using 3D printing techniques to open automated shoe factories in key destination markets. If these operations prove profitable, such automated shoe factories will no doubt reduce the need for ASEAN workers.” In ASEAN countries like Indonesia, 64 percent of workers in the garment industry is facing loss of work while the figure is a steep 86 percent in Vietnam and 88 percent in Cambodia.

“Countries that compete on low-wage labor need to reposition themselves. Price advantage is no longer enough. Policymakers need to create a more conducive environment that leads to greater human capital investment, research and development, and high-value production,” says Deborah France-Massin, Director, Bureau of employers’ activities, ILO.

women engaged in stitching textile 3d printer                       Image:

The automotive industry is facing 60 percent diminution in workforce in Indonesia alone and 70 percent of Thais is facing the threat of losing their jobs within the next twenty years. The study also notices that the automobile manufacturing sector has been the most benefitted industry from automation services. Electronics industry will see a surge in robotics usage; however robots will assist workers rather than replacing them to make “human centric” electronics.


Tim Forsyth, a professor of development at the London School of Economics says, “Perhaps the longer-term transitions could, arguably, be indicated by experiences elsewhere. For example, in Europe or North America in the 1960s, people worked in factories. Now, fewer people work in factories but many still work there, while service industries have grown and people discovered other ways to generate incomes.”

The study comprise of data assessed from over 330 interviews, 4,000 enterprise surveys and 2,700 student surveys across South East Asian nations.


Nimish Sany: I bleed my thoughts on paper. And if I cant find a paper, blogs serve the purpose just fine.

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