Along with undergraduate teaching, we also have an MPhil course in Industrial Systems, Manufacturing and Management here at the Institute for Manufacturing. As part of their studies, participants on the MPhil complete an 18 week research dissertation. The Bit by Bit team has just recruited four of these students to help our investigations into 3D printing, with their work running from April to August this year.
The students will be looking at the emergence and adoption of 3D printing. Each will be doing so in a specific application domain:
- Dental implants
- Snow sports
- Luxury goods
- Bioprinting tissues and organs
Studies of industrial and technological emergence point to the importance of niches in providing the habitats in which novel technologies can begin to be commercialised, demonstrating their capabilities before wider market adoption. The first three of these domains are niches where 3D printing may find entry points.
The first domains, dental implants, is the most mature. A number of companies including 3D Systems, EnvisionTEC, EOS and Stratasys produce specialist 3D printers for the manufacture of dental implants. These systems have been used by orthodontists and dental laboratories for a few years now. The dissertation will seek to explore to what degree the introduction of 3D printing has caused industry reconfiguration.
Snow sports have traditionally been an area in which there has been a high degree of user innovation and experimentation around new materials and manufacturing processes. While skis and snowboards may not appear immediately attractive applications for 3D printing, there are a range of other novel applications of 3D printing emerging in this space, such as the Edinburgh start-up ALPrint offering customised ski boot insoles.
The high end of the market often provides scope for the introduction of new products. Has this been the case for 3D printing in the luxury goods market? This is an interesting question to explore because luxury goods are often defined by their rarity and the craftsmanship that has gone into the product. When a design can be reproduced at the touch of a button, how does that affect the perception of a luxury good? If the Hoptroff No. 10 pocket watch is any indication then it will still be able to attract a premium price.
Finally, furthest from market is the bioprinting of tissues and organs. The hope that one day in the not too distant future we might be able to replace our defective body parts with new ones. This research will map the evolution of bioprinting up to the present day.
We’d like to hear from you if you’re currently working in one of these domains and are willing to help our students with their research.