There is a mounting unanimity regarding 3D printing technologies; asserting that it is part of a key technological revolution that is taking place. 3D printing refers to a form of “preservative” manufacturing in which a three-dimensional object is ‘printed’ or manufactured by accumulating level after level of a specific material. This material usually varies from the more typical “subtractive” (an item is shaped out of a chunk of raw material) or moulding (a liquefied material is infused into a solid mould) forms of manufacturing.
A great amount of work has been transmitted pertaining to what these technologies have the potential to bring in terms of invention and development. However little work has been done pertaining to their effect on business model innovation and business models in general. History has given us examples over and over that technological revolution deprived of sufficient business model development turns out to be a drawback rather than an advantage for many businesses. When it comes to 3D printing, this area is additionally made complex by the fact that implementation or the use of these technologies has happened in four consecutive phases, mainly: rapid tooling, rapid prototyping, home fabrication and digital manufacturing. These processes resemble a dissimilar level of immersion of 3D printing in the manufacturing process.
Initially, 3D printing technologies were mainly used for rapid prototyping; in recent years, 3D printing technologies have gradually acquired a more essential role in manufacturing processes. As technology upgraded, it soon became a possibility for 3D printers to not only be used to prototype, but manufacture moulds and tools used for conventional manufacturing as well. As a result 3D printing technologies became not only possible but even economical in certain cases, to completely manufacture products using 3D printers. The arrival of individual 3D Printers has made it feasible to candidly manufacture right at home, detouring from the actual distribution step.
While the overall effect of rapid prototyping or rapid prototyping services is determined to be limited in amount, direct manufacturing and if we may call it so, “home fabrication,” have the potential and possibility to be greatly disruptive to the manufacturing world. It is a challenge in it of itself. 3D printing technologies do have the prospective of shifting the way business model innovation is transported out, by facilitating adaptive business models and by producing a rapid prototyping standard to business model transformation itself. Even though many have argued that rapid prototyping may help raise the competition in business models rather than disrupting them in the long run, only time will tell regarding this matter. Apart from changes in business model constituents, 3D printing changes business model modernization, by allowing consumers to rapidly prototype and adjust business models according to their needs.
The 3D printing transformation as some like to call it, is expected to vary considerably in comparison to the preceding digital transformations or revolutions. As music and movies are currently mainly transmitted over the Internet in order to be manufactured at home, it is highly improbable that all manufacturing will trail the same path, with every single item being “invented” at home through a private 3D printer. While evidently it is beneficial for modified products, 3D printing is highly likely to continue being uneconomical or inefficient for vastly consumed objects. Even if we were to assume that reasonable high-definition and multi-material private 3D printers would soon become a reality, consumers would probably still prefer to buy a product at a store nearby or have it delivered through online shops.
Having said the above, as a form of technology, 3D printing will unquestionably bring forth substantial value creation. The main question in this arena is how business models will require developing or changing in order to permit value capture, which is essential to obtaining a competitive upper hand in the already competitive market. 3D printing will make this capture easier, if businesses are able to use the technology efficiently and to their advantage.
While unique at the time of introduction, the starting of rapid prototyping in the market only had a peripheral effect on the manner in which companies designed and conducted their business activities. In fact the core purpose of a prototype is to classify and identify design faults, specifically compatibility or usage concerns. With the advent of rapid prototyping it was possible to considerably cut down the procedure undergone to build a prototype from weeks, sometimes even months, to a mere number of days or even hours! Speeding up this phase of production has permitted production stakeholders to issue new products to the market rapidly.
While rapid prototyping was initially only used by large corporations, mainly due to the high costs involved, gradual decrease in the price has led to a wider adoption of rapid prototyping. Not to mention, prototyping quality has also enhanced significantly and these days, we can see higher range printers (amounting to $200,000 or more) are adept to build multi-material entirely operative prototypes without much effort.
Introducing rapid prototyping to the crowds on a mass level will more than likely have a huge effect on competition, creativity and innovation. This is because rapid prototyping would facilitate future entrepreneurs to test out their concepts and not let it remain as mere ideas. With respect to business models, it is vital to mention that rapid prototyping does not indicate additional disruptions in modules; rather many of the expected changes related to value propositions will apply heavily on business models. These may prove to be positive in the long run.
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