Introducing the 3DP-RDM Feasibility Studies: Redistributing Material Supply Chains for 3D printing

Following the recent feasibility study competition, the 3DP-RDM network is funding four projects in 2015. In this series of blog posts we introduce the four studies. Today we introduce the third study, “Redistributing Material Supply Chains for 3D printing”, which is being led by Prof. Matthias Holweg at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.

There is a broad lack of knowledge in how material supply chains may be part of the redistribution of manufacturing through 3D printing. The potential to change the location and scale of materials supply is critical to the question of how 3D printing relates to re-distributed manufacturing. In this project we ask: Can materials supply be redistributed to bring materials production closer to primary goods production?

There are structural barriers to creating a circular economy of material flows, stemming from the large economies of scale in traditional manufacturing. Highly distributed yet valuable quantities of material waste, such as biomass, recyclable polymers, and metals, are predominantly sold into secondary materials markets rather than back into primary production. One main reason is that concentrations of valuable materials in waste are typically small compared to the amount of material needed for traditional manufacturing. When waste is aggregated in large recycling facilities, information and value is lost through mixing.

The re-distributive logic of 3D printing production, involving small batch customised production with near constant returns to scale in many markets, presents the possibility that 3D printing markets could be fed by small batch quantities of high quality waste, increasing the circulation of information and material value. This opens a compelling possibility that material supply chains could be re-distributed, bringing the scales and locations of production and consumption closer.

This study opens up a new area of academic inquiry, involving interdisciplinary research into how 3D printing, as a new manufacturing technology, can be embedded in local material economies and how such developments may gradually alter the global landscape of materials supply and manufacturing. Second, the study can supply the foundation for practical and experimental work involving waste to resource technology for 3D printing markets.

Matthias Holweg_small1Matthias Holweg is Professor of Operations Management at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. His main research interests are how to manages and sustain process improvement, and how to design and manage global supply networks. Most recently he became interested in how 3D printing could reshape business models and supply chains in manufacturing. His research has appeared in the Journal of Operations Management, MIT Sloan Management Review, and California Management Review, and jointly with John Bicheno he is co-author of The Lean Toolbox, one of the best-selling handbooks on Lean implementation.

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Call for Evidence: UK National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing / 3D Printing – 15 June deadline

The Call for Evidence to support the development of a UK National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing / 3D Printing (AM-3DP) is currently open.  The deadline for the submission of initial evidence is 15 June 2015.

Details on how the strategy is being developed are provided here. Evidence can be submitted in three ways:

  1. Submit your evidence on-line by clicking on this link.
  2. Submit your evidence via a Word Document form (available by clicking here), which should then be emailed to
  3. If you wish to contribute a more substantial document – which could be included as an appendix to the final strategy publication – you are welcome to do so using the template available by clicking here, which should then be emailed to

If you have any queries regarding this Call for Evidence, please email

About the UK National Strategy for AM-3DP

Additive Manufacturing / 3D Printing (AM-3DP) is a key enabler in high value manufacturing where benefits, such as smarter supply chains, digital manufacturing flexibility and design freedoms, are transforming the way products and components are designed, developed, manufactured and supplied in a wide range of sectors. The UK is amongst the global leaders in both the development of knowledge and successful application of AM-3DP technology, but there are gaps in the industrial ecosystem that need to be addressed if the UK is to capture value from the opportunities presented by AM-3DP. In addition, national strategies around the world are being developed to accelerate innovation and provide those nations with a significant advantage as they co-ordinate and focus their research, innovation and commercialisation activities relating to AM-3DP.

To respond to these issues, a Steering Group of senior representatives of a range of public and private sector organisations produced a AM Strategy Positioning Paper that provided an overview of the importance of AM-3DP to the UK economy. This Positioning Paper marked the starting point for the development of a UK National Strategy for AM-3DP. This strategy is being developed in four stages in the period March 2015 to February 2016. Two Scoping Workshops comprised the first stage, held on 10 March (hosted by the MTC) and 25 March (hosted by the University of Nottingham), were attended by over 120 industry, government and academic representatives. The outputs of these workshops helped to define the scope of the current Call for Evidence. This evidence will be analysed during July-September, with the strategy being developed and produced during October-February 2016.

The development of the UK National Strategy for AM-3DP is being coordinated by a Steering Grouping, whose members include representatives from industry (GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, TWI), research (Manufacturing Technology Centre, University of Cambridge, University of Nottingham) and Government (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills).

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RECODE Network Launch Event – 3rd June, London

Transforming the consumer goods industry through the use of big data and re-distributed models of manufacture poses entirely new challenges inherent to the capture, storage, analysis, visualisation and interpretation of big data. Combined with this is the cross-disciplinary requirement for radically new methods of engaging end-users, empowering customer interaction, facilitating ad-hoc supply chains, re-capturing and re-deploying valuable materials, optimising manufacturing processes, informing new user-driven design of customised goods and services, developing novel business models and implementing data-driven open innovation.

Led by Dr Fiona Charnley at Cranfield University, the EPSRC-ESRC Network in Re-Distributed Manufacturing, Consumer Goods and Big Data (RECODE) aims to engage a diverse community to explore the use of big data in the development of a re-distributed, joined up model of production for the future.

The RECODE Network Launch Event is being held on 3rd June 2015 at IDEALondon, 69 Wilson Street, Shoreditch, London EC2A 2BB. This initial event will bring together academics, practitioners, policy makers and others to introduce the network, through key note talks from Cisco, Cranfield University and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and start to develop a multi-disciplinary community, roadmap and vision for the future of UK manufacturing.

Register for the event here.

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