3D Printing and the Circular Economy paper accepted for publication

The Bit by Bit team are very pleased to announce that our paper on 3D printing and the circular economy, Unlocking value for a circular economy through 3D printing: a research agenda, has been accepted for publication in Technological Forecasting & Social Change.

As we previously commented, the paper is the result of continued collaboration following an unsuccessful funding application to the EPSRC. With eleven authors, the paper draws together knowledge from a range of fields – business models, design, education, entrepreneurship, information science, and supply chains – and involves both academic and practitioner perspectives.  We’re very pleased that the ideas we developed and our proposed research agenda have found an outlet in this journal. Click here to read the pre-publication copy of the paper.

Unlocking value for a circular economy through 3D printing: a research agenda

Mélanie Despeisse, Martin Baumers, Phil Brown, Fiona Charnley, Simon Ford, Alysia Garmulewicz, Scott Knowles, Tim Minshall, Letizia Mortara, Felix Reed-Tsochas and Jonathan Rowley


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.

[Image source: Mélanie Despeisse]

Investigating the Impact of CAD Data Transfer Standards for 3DP-RDM

The final project report from the feasibility study led by Dr Eujin Pei at Brunel University is now online. Investigating the Impact of CAD Data Transfer Standards for 3DP-RDM describes results of the work undertaken during the 2015-16 feasibility study conducted by Dr Pei and Dr Malte Ressin, with the results of the study feeding into ISO’s Technical Committee 261 on additive manufacturing.


Additive Manufacturing is set to play a vital role in the Re-Distributed Manufacturing landscape. The paradigm shift towards a decentralised approach of cloud manufacturing and dynamic production requires tighter standardisation and efficient interfaces between CAD data and Additive Manufacturing. In parallel with technology advancements, it is important to consider the digital chain of information. Although a plethora of CAD formats exist, only some are used for data transfer. The problem is that a true CAD data transfer standard for a 3DP-RDM ecosystem does not exist.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of CAD data transfer standards within the 3DP-RDM landscape. It aims to investigate the impact of CAD data transfer standards within the 3DP-RDM landscape and identify required features in existing standards. The study was set up by first examining the data flow from CAD to 3D printing and reviewing established shortcomings of existing data transfer standards. Further
after identifying the data transfer standards AMF, 3MF, STEP and STEP-NC as upcoming and promising replacements, their premises, objectives, contributions and advantages were reviewed. Finally, the role of 3D printing in setting up re-distributed manufacturing by overcoming tooling costs and the associated economies of scale were reviewed.

Because the aims of this research touch both on sociotechnical aspects, i.e. the impact of standards on future manufacturing, and on more technical aspects, i.e. information requirements for future standards, in this study qualitative and quantitative approaches were combined to answer the research question. Focus group interviews and a survey were conducted with 3DP and RDM experts from both industry and academia. Participants’ accounts were analysed for common themes and narratives. The suitability of existing data transfer formats was examined by compiling existing and expected standard features and rating them through the AM industry and experts.

Results show the expected requirements on future 3DP-RDM data transfer standards as well as their benefits, in particular with regards to manufacturing processes of 3DP service providers, but also for customer concerns such as privacy. The study shows that the STEP-NC and AMF standards are ahead in implementing the most highly valued data transfer features. Open standards are expected to further facilitate innovation in 3DP.

This study is intended to contribute to an evaluation of existing standards and their future development and adoption. It is hoped that the results will benefit policy makers and industry leaders to be aware of the importance of data exchange standards for AM so as to pave a clear roadmap for the digital economy in RDM manufacturing.

[Image source: Eujin Pei]