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3D Printing and Missile Technology Controls

Publisher: SIPRI
November, 2017

Additive manufacturing (AM), also referred to as ‘3D printing’, is a rapidly developing technology. AM enables the production of objects of virtually any shape by depositing and bonding together successive layers of material. AM machines are increasingly capable of producing a variety of items for aerospace and missile applications which are subject to dual-use export controls. The increasing capabilities of AM machines—in combination with their reliance on intangible transfers of technology (ITT)—have raised concerns in the multilateral export control regimes. Specifically, AM may impact the effective implementation of export controls and pose proliferation risks.

This SIPRI Background Paper takes stock of the current state of the art of the technology by explaining its basic features and by highlighting the level of maturity and spread of AM applications in the aerospace sector. Building on this review, it discusses the specific challenges that AM poses to export controls by examining existing controls and proposals for new controls on transfers of AM machines, feedstock materials and digital build files. Drawing on this analysis, the paper proposes potential ways forward for the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the other multilateral export control regimes, for national export control authorities and for companies involved in AM.

An earlier version of this paper was made available to the delegations of the MTCR Partners participating in the Dublin Plenary in October 2017, as part of the ‘Compendium of Research Articles’ compiled by the Permanent Point of Contact of the MTCR to mark the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the regime.


I. Introduction  

II. State of the art in additive manufacturing

III. Export controls and additive manufacturing 

IV. Additive manufacturing and the way forward for the export control regimes, national authorities and companies


Kolja Brockmann is a Senior Researcher in the SIPRI Dual-Use and Arms Trade Control programme.
Dr Sibylle Bauer is the Director of Studies, Armament and Disarmament, at SIPRI.