Only a few weeks after the introduction of the tariffs, which will increase the cost of many electronic components from China by 25%, a second round of tariffs is to begin, which will deal another blow to hackers. And this time it hits the very heart of our community: 3D printing.
A quick look at the US Trade Representative’s final customs list reveals no obvious cause for concern. Among the hundreds of specific items listed, there is no “additive manufacturing filaments” or anything else that would suggest that 3D printing accessories are being targeted. In the second list of tariff articles, which is tucked into a polymer chemist’s shopping list, there are, however, hidden some entries for “monofilaments with cross-sectional dimensions greater than 1 mm”. Uh-oh!
This seems specifically to target the typical 1.75mm filament that most FDM printers love to eat. However, in the line items, the prohibited line items are specifically listed as polymers made from ethylene, acrylic, and vinyl chloride. Neither PLA nor ABS, the most popular filaments, fit into any of these categories. The next line item, however, seems to be the gotcha: “Monofilament nesoi [Not Elsewhere Specified or Indicated]Made of plastics other than ethylene, vinyl chloride and acrylic polymers. “This appears to include plastic filaments of any size made from a different polymer than those listed above. This represents a broad category of products that can include anything from fishing line to spools of weed bat lines. And apparently PLA and ABS printer filament.
But wait; it gets worse. Not only finished filaments apparently fall below the 25% tariff, but so do the raw polymers that go into making them, with both ABS and PLA getting their own line items in other parts of the list. It is particularly revealing that none of these line items contain modifiers. There’s no mention of shape or viscosity or modifying chemistry like most of the other polymers on the list. That seems very broad and seems to give customs brokers a lot of leeway to beat the tariff for any shipment of raw ABS or PLA. This is bad news for US filament manufacturers who source their PLA and ABS from China.
Has any of this bad news filtered its way through the market? It doesn’t seem; A non-exhaustive search in the price history of PLA filaments for camel camel shows that the price of filaments made in China has been stable in recent months, so the market has not yet taken the tariff into account. However, with the tariff slated to go into effect on August 23, we would expect that to change soon.
As with any tariff, the impact on the consumer’s bottom line is difficult to predict. Markets are flexible and adapt to the challenges they face by switching suppliers and finding new ways to do business. In this case, many countries other than China make both PLA and ABS, so manufacturers can switch suppliers if it makes sense. But world trade is a complex web of agreements and alliances that the little guy doesn’t often take into account. So, you can bet that this tariff will have an impact on 3D printer filament pricing. Since the tasks start in less than two weeks, we’ll soon know how much this affects.
Thanks to [Scott McGimpsey] for the heads on this one.