4.2.1. Vanclay’s Theoretical Framework
shows the interviewees’ perceptions of the social impacts of AM related to health and safety, mental health, and well-being, as well as expectations for the future.
The first factor, “occupational disease situations”, represents the exposure to health risk factors such as a thermal environment, noise, and vibration (i.e., physical risks of the work environment). All the interviewees stated that AM technology has a positive impact on worker health and safety. According to them, this risk almost disappears, because the equipment is noiseless, the machines can run on their own (higher autonomy) and the workers are “removed” from the process, as compared with conventional technologies in which there is a more constant and closer man-machine contact. In fact, some of the respondents emphasized that in many small companies, the factory environment disappears, and everything is similar to an open-space layout, typical of service companies, where the manufacturing zones coexist with administrative workspaces. These results are aligned with the literature [11
], since is frequently referred to as a positive social impact.
Likewise, in the factor “feelings of social valorisation/recognition of professional status”, all the interviewees agreed that the impact on “expectation for your future” was positive. They justified this, claiming AM technology is seen as something new, revolutionary, modern, and appealing, allowing varied and creative work.
In contrast, for the factor “situations of particular risks”, the impact on “health and safety” is unanimously negative, because there is an added risk on both occupational health and worker safety. This is explained by the increased use of a wide range of raw materials, namely thermoplastics and composites that release toxic particles and fumes, increasing the risk for health, either through direct contact with the skin or inhalation [11
Regarding the impacts on “health and safety” caused by “situations of accidents at work” and the “number of hours of mental, and/or physical work”, all interviewees agreed that the effect was null, since the machines are safe, do much of the work without human intervention, and there is already enough know-how on this technology.
Similarly, the impacts on “mental health and well-being”, caused by the “level of stress, and/or anxiety at work”, received a null classification from three interviewees. The exception was the representative of the collaborative community. His justification for the mixed effect caused by “level of stress, and/or anxiety at work”, concerning impact, was that some AM applications are still quite slow, and this could increase stress levels when there are short deadlines to meet.
4.2.4. Impacts on Economic and Material Well-Being
The main category, “economic and material well-being” (Table 5
), includes issues related to disruption with the local economy, economic prosperity, the level of employment in the community, and professional status or type of employment. Since this category includes 19 factors, it was considered helpful to show a relative distribution for mapping both the direction of the impacts and the level of agreement, as can be observed in Figure 2
It can be established from the results that the opinion of respondents on the impacts of the category “economic and material well-being” were frequently coincident (Table 5
) and mostly positive (Figure 1
), since more than half the items are labelled in the colour green (21% + 32%).
Regarding the potential effect of “disruption with the local economy”, all interviewees agreed that the factor “adaptation of products’ characteristics to the needs/expectations of the community” has a positive impact, because the use of the AM technology allows customization and better management of stocks, since these are manufactured upon request. This in line with the literature [25
Furthermore, the changes in the “creation/disappearance of small local businesses” can have both positive and mixed impacts on the “disruption with the local economy”. For a couple of respondents, there was no problem (perceived as positive impact) because they believed that new small AM businesses can coexist with traditional businesses. The other two respondents were unsure and considered “mixed” impacts, since there is still some chance that a few traditional businesses can disappear.
With regards to perceived effects on “economic prosperity”, the respondents were almost unanimous in considering that changes in “customization/personalization” and “new skills that can be used in new businesses” have positive impacts. AM allows acquiring new skills that can be used to develop new business. However, the interviewee from organization B considered that the impacts are mixed, since the development of new skills is positive, but, conversely, it can also create unemployment and poverty due to the low qualification of some workers. Customization was pointed out by all interviewees as a significant change, since it allows the ability to quickly answer customer expectations. This confirms the relationship between AM and customization that is advocated in the literature [5
]. Most respondents believe that there will be no changes in the “rewards system”. However, one of the interviewees pointed out that AM processes facilitate management by objectives.
The effect on the “level of employment in the community” received a mixed classification by all interviewees when assessing the change “creation/disappearance of jobs”, since this technology promotes both the creation of some jobs and the disappearance of others.
Within the impact on “professional status and employment type”, a wider variety of factors were assessed. All the interviewees were unanimous in considering that “educational curricula” and the “need to participate in training and professional requalification” have a positive impact in professional status and employment. Changes in education and training were referred to by the interviewees as one of the areas which can benefit most from the introduction of qualifications in the domain of AM technology. One of the interviewees mentioned that recruitment processes in engineering areas are already valuing knowledge of the use of 3D technology. The importance of developing new skills and competencies for AM is also mentioned in the literature as a positive effect [11
The trend to use “open office” schemes supports the perceptions of the interviewees that “function analysis” and “work organization” have a positive impact on “professional status and employment type”.
Two of the interviewees considered that “more flexible work schedules” has a positive impact, since several porTable 3
D machines can be easily used anywhere (i.e., the home, office, events, etc.). Two others considered that there will be no impact concerning this factor.
“Performance assessment system” was considered without impact (impact null) or with positive impact (A), because these systems become very objective, allowing the unequivocally verification if the employee has complied with the procedures defined by the company within the stipulated period. All these factors were considered positive by respondent A. This last explanation is also the reason why two interviewees considered that “responsibility for the tasks performed” has a positive impact.
Regarding the effect of “need of teamwork”, there were different perspectives. It is important (and beneficial) to work as a team, because the various stages of production must be well synchronized. If an individual makes an error (e.g., programming the machine incorrectly) it can jeopardize the entire process.
According to three interviewees, the factor “need to develop new skills” has a perceived positive impact, because the evolution of this technology forces employees to be up to date/keep up with the development of technology.
“New work scheme” changes were perceived as generators of positive and mixed impacts on “professional status and employment type”, since these schemes increasingly allow remote work systems, but at the same time, there may be negative impacts that result from an excess of employees who can work from home or other locations. Remote work allows higher professional flexibility, but it can also “isolate” individuals from their workplace and organization, creating risks inherent to “work alone” situations, typically psychosocial risks.
The factors “precarious contracts” and (personnel) “turnover” seem to be related. Both are likely to increase because there is a shortage of AM specialists. At least two of the interviewees (B and C) believe that there are both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, the freelance qualified workers are encouraged because they can easily change from one company to another, creating new opportunities for “self-employment”. On the other hand, this also means precarious jobs, which are justified by the typology of production management “by project”.
Finally, the interviewees’ perceptions of the effects of “resistance to organizational and technological change” on “professional status and employment Type” was that it has almost no impact. However, one of the interviewees considered that the impact is negative, since there is some resistance to organizational and technological change.