strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 25

essay technology automobile or appliance dealers may find it more beneficial to have cer-tain small, low-volume repair parts printed on an as-needed basis at a repair facility than to keep a large stock of inventory. And, although most applica-tions will remain niche, 3D print-ers can trigger new business models thanks to their ability to readily share digital designs. For example, users have already created an open source community around MakerBot’s Thingiverse. Although this com-munity is still in the nascent stages, thoughtful entrepreneurs will un-doubtedly find a way to profit from such ecosystems as the 3D printing industry shakes up and then settles around common standards. The sheer accessibility to a means of pro-duction without prohibitive startup costs creates a flatter playing field, bringing more designers into open competition. Companies that lack scale economies can cost-effectively pilot a design concept, but success-ful designs will ultimately migrate to large-scale, mass production. Optimism without Hype building replacement organs from a patient’s own cells. Of course, be-cause printing organic, living cells is a far cry from manufacturing chess pieces from commodity-grade plas-tics or metals, this will require a very high level of sophistication. Finally, although they are unlikely in the near term, break-throughs in nanotechnology or in the ability to inexpensively create the raw materials needed for 3D printing from recycled household waste could completely change the economic trade-offs. We may even-tually live in a world where factories that mass-produce goods become obsolete, because we’re producing them ourselves in the comfort of our own homes. But we wouldn’t bet on that happening anytime soon. + Reprint No. 00219 Access All of strategy+business Online • Web-only content published weekly • Recent Research • Author’s Choice • Archive of all articles Subscribe for free Tim Laseter is a professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School. He is the author or coauthor of four books, including The Portable MBA (Wiley, 2010) and Strategic Product Creation (McGraw-Hill, 2007). Formerly a partner with Booz & Company, he has more than 25 years of business strategy experience. Jeremy Hutchison-Krupat is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School. His research focuses on innovation, with an emphasis on how firms implement their innovation strategy. Previously, he spent more than 10 years in industry, where he held roles in strategy, innovation, and engineering. Although on the basis of our fore-cast, we don’t buy all the hype around digital printing, we remain hopeful about its potential for driv-ing change, for several reasons. For one, even though the 3D printer won’t alter the fundamental struc-ture of global manufacturing, per-haps it can help bridge the digital divide and create new opportuni-ties for manufacturing. Paralleling the opening of communications to remote and financially distressed areas, a shared low-cost 3D print-er could allow village residents to print tools, replacement parts, or even simple medical apparatuses. Further, some researchers envision • s + b ’s e-mail newsletters • RSS updates on 16 subjects Talk with us GooglePlus

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