Introducing the 3DP-RDM feasibility studies: Supporting SMEs in creating value through 3DP-RDM

Following the recent feasibility study competition, the 3DP-RDM network is funding four projects in 2016. In this series of blog posts we introduce the four studies. Today we introduce the third study, “Supporting SMEs in creating value through 3DP-RDM”, which is being led by Dr Peter Dorrington at the PDR Cardiff Metropolitan University. 

Click through to their blog to read the introduction to the project.

[Image source: Peter Dorrington]

New paper on distributed manufacturing published

A new paper with a contribution from the 3DP-RDM network has now been published in the International Journal of Production Research. The paper Distributed manufacturing: scope, challenges and opportunities is a collective effort from participants in the EPSRC re-distributed manufacturing networks and is authored by Jagjit Singh Srai, Mukesh Kumar, Gary Graham, Wendy Phillips, James Tooze, Simon Ford, Paul Beecher, Baldev Raj, Mike Gregory, Manoj Kumar Tiwari, B. Ravi, Andy Neely, Ravi Shankar, Fiona Charnley and Ashutosh Tiwari. The paper is part of the forthcoming special issue “Distributed manufacturing to enhance productivity”, which is doubly special for our project as it also features Letizia Mortara and Nicolas Parisot’s paper Through entrepreneurs’ eyes: the Fab-spaces constellation.


This discussion paper aims to set out the key challenges and opportunities emerging from distributed manufacturing (DM). We begin by describing the concept, available definitions and consider its evolution where recent production technology developments (such as additive and continuous production process technologies), digitisation together with infrastructural developments (in terms of IoT and big data) provide new opportunities. To further explore the evolving nature of DM, the authors, each of whom are involved in specific applications of DM research, examine through an expert panel workshop environment emerging DM applications involving new production and supporting infrastructural technologies. This paper presents these generalisable findings on DM challenges and opportunities in terms of products, enabling production technologies and the impact on the wider production and industrial system. Industry structure and location of activities are examined in terms of the democratising impact on participating network actors. The paper concludes with a discussion on the changing nature of manufacturing as a result of DM, from the traditional centralised, large-scale, long lead-time forecast-driven production operations to a new DM paradigm where manufacturing is a decentralised, autonomous near end user-driven activity. A forward research agenda is proposed that considers the impact of DM on the industrial and urban landscape.

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New circular economy and 3D printing working paper

Back in February the Bit by Bit team responded to an EPSRC call for expressions of interest on the theme of the circular economy. As we’d been looking at sustainability issues connected to 3D printing we thought that this would be an excellent call to enable us to advance research in this area. However we knew that we couldn’t do the work alone and so coordinated a research proposal with Fiona Charnley at Cranfield University, Martin Baumers at the University of Nottingham, and Alysia Garmulewicz and Felix Reed-Tsochas at the University of Oxford, and with industrial support from Jonathan Rowley at Digits2Widgets, Scott Knowles at Fila-Cycle, and Phil Brown at the HSSMI.

Unfortunately our expression of interest wasn’t taken to the next stage of the proposal process. Despite this disappointment, the group was convinced of the importance of this work and so we’ve continued to work together, synthesizing our knowledge and perspectives from across our disciplines in a research paper “Unlocking value for a circular economy through 3D printing: a research agenda“. We’ve submitted this paper to the journal, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, and hope that the research agenda it outlines can provide a platform for other researchers to build on.



The circular economy (CE) aims to radically improve resource efficiency by eliminating the concept of waste and leading to a shift away from the linear take-make-waste model. In a CE, resources are flowing in a circular manner either in a biocycle (biomass) or technocycle (inorganic materials). While early studies indicate that 3D printing (3DP) holds substantial promise for sustainability and the creation of a CE, there is no guarantee that it will do so. There is great uncertainty regarding whether the current trajectory of 3DP adoption is creating more circular material flows or if it is leading to an alternative scenario in which less eco-efficient localised production, demands for customised goods, and a higher rate of product obsolescence combine to bring about increased resource consumption. It is critical that CE principles are embedded into the new manufacturing system before the adoption of 3DP reaches a critical inflection point in which negative practices become entrenched. This paper, authored by both academic and industry experts, proposes a research agenda to determine enablers and barriers for 3DP to achieve a CE. We explore the two following overarching questions to discover what specific issues they entail: (1) How can a more distributed manufacturing system based on 3DP create a circular economy of closed-loop material flows? (2) What are the barriers to a circular 3D printing economy? We specifically examine six areas—design, supply chains, information flows, entrepreneurship, business models and education—with the aim of formulating a research agenda to enable 3DP to reach its full potential for a CE.

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New fab-spaces paper accepted for publication

The Bit by Bit team is pleased to announce that Letizia Mortara and Nicolas Parisot’s paper Through entrepreneurs’ eyes: the Fab-spaces constellation has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Production Research. The paper will be part of the forthcoming special issue “Distributed manufacturing to enhance productivity”, guest edited by Prof. Manoj Kumar Tiwari, Prof. Sir Mike Gregory and Prof. Baldev Raj.  This paper builds on the previous work presented at the first World Open Innovation Conference, Napa, CA, 4-5 December 2014.

While the paper is being formally processed and formatted by the Journal, a pre-publication version is available on ResearchGate. Here’s the abstract to give you a taste of what the paper covers.


Fab-spaces provide individuals with access to numerous manufacturing equipment (including additive manufacturing), to carry out different types of projects. Although scholars are starting to speculate about the importance of these new organizational forms and their potential for future distributed innovation and production ecologies, this phenomenon is still largely unexplored. Building on existing multidisciplinary research, this paper offers the first empirical analysis of existing fab-spaces as providers of knowledge and production competencies. Amongst all the possible perspectives to derive a framework, we choose that of fab-spaces users who have an entrepreneurial intention. After deriving an analytical framework to position fab-spaces in the current academic discourse, the paper develops a classification, which considers the competences available to entrepreneurs, via fab-spaces, in conjunction with how these competences are provided. The resulting map reveals the complementarities amongst the different fab-spaces. It also shows that the current portfolio of fab-spaces supports mainly the distribution of innovation across locations and social groups. Several types of fab-spaces are currently well placed to support the transition from innovation to manufacturing, but their geographical distribution and range of manufacturing capabilities is not yet enough to provide a fully distributed manufacturing model. This study has practical consequences for entrepreneurs, in the better identification of the appropriate fab-spaces for their needs, and for policy makers, to help position the different types of fab-spaces as elements for national systems of innovation and production.

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Exploring how 3D printing is changing the world around us


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