Open Business Models for 3D Printing Innovation

Area of expertise: Digital innovation

3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing (3DP/AM) plays a key strategic role in the future of the UK high-value manufacturing economy.

It was recently listed among the priority technologies which should be developed as a UK national competency (TSB, May 2012). The future 3DP/AM sector has been predicted to be potentially worth in excess of $100billion per annum by 2020 (SIG 2012).

Given the market and strategic value of 3DP/AM to the UK and its potential societal impacts, the area constitutes a key priority for the UK and the Scottish governments.

Sector predicted to be potentially worth in excess of $100billion per annum

The research project, funded by the interdisciplinary RCUK AHRC/CREATe initiative, is led by Luciana D’Adderio (HCE) in collaboration with the Department of Manufacturing & Engineering Management (Jonathan Corney), the Law School (Lilian Edwards), and ISSTI (Edinburgh).

It involves close collaboration with a number of stakeholders involved in the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing ecosystem, including industrial companies (in sectors ranging from consumer products to aerospace), patent attorneys, government agencies (SE), etc.

The research addresses the critical but unexplored issues associated with emerging open and distributed product and business model innovations enabled by flexible, low-cost 3D Printing technologies (3DP, also known as Additive Manufacturing or AM) and open source digital design systems.

Traditional, closed models of production and consumption assume that a single enterprise both owns and manufactures artefacts which are sold to consumers who will use them without modification. This assumption, however, is being challenged by new, open and highly collaborative forms of production (often referred to as ‘prosumer’ or ‘produsage’) enabled by 3D printing technologies.

In this context, widespread access to low-cost printers and digital design software offers the possibilities of unprecedented levels of bespoke customizations and adaptation of existing designs. While signalling a radical shift in the locus of innovation, this trend towards mass-customisation highlights new opportunities for value creation and capture which were not available under the mass-manufacturing paradigm.

This approach, however, comes with a set of distinct opportunities and challenges. On one hand, we are presented with outstanding opportunities for open and distributed innovation, whereby knowledge and capabilities from a variety of stakeholders can be combined towards the creation of new customised products.

On the other, the progressive disintegration of user/producer boundaries raises important issues for the creation and capture of value in the 3D ecosystem and the emergence of open and distributed business models.

While the convergence of additive manufacturing with repositories to share 3D data, open hardware licensing, and platforms to remotely access manufacturing capacity is creating an environment where innovation is flourishing, our research assesses how companies (re)design their business models to facilitate open innovation and user input while avoiding the potential risks and liabilities brought about by these highly disruptive but highly promising technologies.