Category Archives: industrial emergence

Outstanding Paper Award for “The industrial emergence of commercial inkjet printing”

I’m pleased to share the news that one of the papers underpinning our study of the emergence of 3D printing has just received an award.

“The industrial emergence of commercial inkjet printing” by Simon Ford, Michèle Routley, Rob Phaal and David Probert has been recognised as the oustanding paper of 2014 in the European Journal of Innovation Management.

The paper shows that as new industries emerge, asynchronies between technology supply and market demand create opportunities for entrepreneurial activity. In attempting to match innovative technologies to particular applications, entrepreneurs adapt to the system conditions and shape the environment to their own advantage. Firms that successfully operate in emerging industries demonstrate the functionality of new technologies, reducing uncertainty and increasing customer receptiveness.

The article is now available to download for free.

[Image source]

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Interaction of materials and equipment: barriers and enablers to technological development

One of the most important aspects of industrial emergence that has been seen in earlier work is the interaction between supply and demand. For the development of new technologies to occur there must be some kind of pull from the market. This usually begins in niche markets, which although not often very large, provide the early revenues necessary for the technology to be improved and demonstrated. Such niche markets are of particular importance to early stage ventures, which cannot depend on other product lines for revenues as they attempt to establish a presence in new markets.

There are also important interactions within the supply-side, with the creation of a functioning value chain necessary for demand to be met. During the early stages of an industry, such value chains are rather simple, with firms needing to be vertically integrated in order to ensure that all stages are performed. Then as the industry begins to emerge and its financial viability becomes apparent, specialist firms take on roles within the value chain.

It is interesting to look at the 3D printing industry because there has been a need for the equipment and materials to be developed in combination so that new applications can be developed and new markets entered. Focusing now on the materials aspect of the history of the industry, we are looking to answer the following questions in our research:

  •  How has the development of new materials enabled the emergence of 3D printing technologies?
  • How has the availability of materials affected technological development?
  • What differences have there been in the development and application of polymer filaments, resins and powders, metal powders and other materials?
  • What challenges have companies faced in terms of materials supply?
  • How have companies responded to these challenges?

Previous work on the supply-demand interaction has been conducted in the commercial inkjet printing industry (see this report and journal article for reference). That work considered the interplay of printheads, inks and print systems development with market demand. The study highlighted the important role that entrepreneurial agency played in the commercialisation of commercial inkjet printing technologies, as well as how demonstrations had reduced uncertainty and led to an improvement in investor and customer confidence. This earlier work in commercial inkjet printing provides the theoretical foundation as we begin to investigate the role of materials development in the emergence of 3D printing technologies.

Relating to our third question, we wonder if there will be a substantial difference between polymer-based and metal-based applications. Polymer powders and resins have needed to be developed for 3D printing application while many metal powders already exist and are used in other applications. In commercial inkjet printing, specialist inks needed to be developed for the  printheads to operate. This meant that there was a need for printhead developers to convince ink developers that there was going to be a significant market for the inks and that it was financially attractive for investment to be made in the formulation of new inks. Has it been a similar case in any of the 3D printing technologies? We’ll report our findings in due course.

Image source: http://3dprintinginsider.com/3d-systems-and-arcam-could-benefit-from-new-low-cost-titanium-powder_b14359

Mapping the emergence of 3D printing

In previous research at the Institute for Manufacturing we explored the phases and transitions of industrial emergence and developed a framework for mapping industrial emergence. On the basis of that framework, a suite of tools was created. Each of these tools were based on the technology roadmapping principles in which one axis is time-based and the other comprises a number of thematic categories.

We want to use some of these tools in the Bit by Bit project in order to map and understand the emergence of the 3D printing industry. The challenge is that the industry is very complicated, with this complicatedness stemming primarily from the huge variety of 3D printing technologies. The main technologies currently being used by leading companies are fused deposition modeling, stereolithography and selective laser sintering but there are also many more.

One of the approaches that we’ve used in the past is to create ‘quick scans’ of industries (e.g. synthetic diamond, silicon gyro, digital camera). These have been historical maps that have been generated decades after industrial emergence occurred. Drawing on existing historical accounts allowed such maps to be created relatively easily and allowed the identification of the key phases and transitions, and barriers and enablers to emergence.

For a live industry encompassing so many different technologies it is far more challenging. It has been necessary for us to try to simplify what is a rich and evolving industrial landscape. The mapping approach we’ve elected to take involves looking at individual companies to see what technologies they have been developing, the products they have released, and the markets into which they’re being sold.

Rather than consider the full range of thematic categories contained within the framework for mapping industrial emergence (value creation, value capture and value capture), we elected to just focus on the application element of value capture. Looking back to the origins of 3D printing, three main application areas are evident:

  1. Rapid prototyping
  2. Tooling (including moulds and casts)
  3. Direct manufacturing

These three applications are used as the three layers of our maps.

Before going any further it is important to provide a caveat. We have so far only used publicly available data (e.g. annual reports, company websites, newswire, industry blogs) when creating the maps. This means that the picture is often far from complete and we recognise the need to collect data from the companies themselves so that our maps are more comprehensive.

The benefit of the mapping approach is that it allows the effective visualisation of the history of a company’s products, the technologies these are based upon, and the different markets that are the customers of these products. In the EOS example below it is readily apparent that automotive was a lead user for EOS’s stereolithographic product line and again when EOS developed its EOSINT S line.

EOS

A visual limitation of this approach is the discrete categorisation of a 3D printer into a particular application. Depending on the requirements of the customer, these machines are often used for a variety of purposes. For example, EOS promotes its EOSINT P396 as allowing “the tool-free manufacture of serial components, spare parts, functional prototypes and models directly from CAD data”. Despite the multi-purposeness of the product, our mapping technique only allows it to be assigned to a single application and it has therefore been put in what we understand to be its primary application (rapid prototyping).

The EOS map is just one of several maps that we have produced of leading 3D printing companies. Some interesting questions arise from these maps that we are considering exploring:

  • How did 3D printing technologies move from one application domain to another?
  • What was the process through which this occurred?
  • What types of demonstration enabled these transitions?
  • What did the process of demonstration involve?

We are also working on a separate visualisation that shows how different companies in the 3D printing industry have acquired (internally and externally) the capabilities of different 3D printing technologies. We’ll share more on that in a future post.

Image source: Simon Ford, with thanks to the subject, Alex Driver