Economic perspectives on 3D printing

Weller, Christian; Piller, Frank Thomas (Thesis advisor); Wentzel, Daniel (Thesis advisor)

Aachen / Publikationsserver der RWTH Aachen University (2015) [Dissertation / PhD Thesis]

Page(s): XVII, 213 S. : Ill., graph. Darst.


Additive Manufacturing (AM), or colloquially “3D Printing”, has been referred to as a technology that has the potential to pave the path towards a new industrial revolution. Although scholars have comprehensively investigated technological aspects of AM, economic discussions remain scarce. Trying to substantiate the current media hype surrounding AM with analytical and empirical findings, the goal of this research project is to discuss economic implications of AM technology. This is why in Part A, a comprehensive introduction to the research field is given. The introduction includes an overview of AM technology and its industry as a whole. Moreover, theoretical background is presented which forms the basis of the three research papers in Part B of this thesis. Each of the research papers portrays distinct aspects of AM from different perspectives - in the following a brief outline of the research papers is given. In Research Paper I, a comprehensive literature review is conducted to identify the technology’s key characteristics and its implications on manufacturing firms and markets. With AM technology a direct digital manufacturing of parts is enabled. There are no penalties in manufacturing for product customization, higher variety or complexity of product designs, while assembly efforts can be reduced when functional products are produced in one step. Given these characteristics, existing models of a manufacturing firm’s payoff function and market structure are studied by adjusting underlying assumptions to reflect AM technology’s characteristics. In doing so, seven propositions are derived that build an impetus for future research.In Research Paper II, the value creation potential of product customization with AM technology is portrayed in two empirical consumer studies with a total of 426 participants. Consumers were asked about their perceived product value and willingness to pay (WTP) for products that allowed different degrees of customization: (i) a standard product without customizability, (ii) a product configuration with modular choices in product attributes (representing a conventional mass customization (MC) approach), and (iii) a continuous adjustment of product attributes (“full customization” enabled by AM). In Study 1, we assessed the value increment of enhancing customization with German consumers in a simulated online buying process of a customizable espresso cup. We revealed that there was a value upside of +189% for full customization compared to the standard product offering, and a +50% higher WTP compared to the modularly customizable product. In Study 2, we revealed a +68% value increment for the full customization approach compared to the conventional MC offering. Further, we identify different value drivers and discuss theoretical and managerial implications. In Research Paper III, two further consumer studies are presented with a total of 400 survey participants. They were shown simulated online buying processes of customizable kitchen knives. Again, a potential value increment when product attributes can be steplessly adjusted was evaluated and compared to conventional MC offerings. In Study 1, we assessed the value of customizing style-related/aesthetic product design attributes; then we evaluated customization of fit-related attributes in Study 2. When consumers could customize aesthetic attributes, we found that differences in perceived product value were insignificant. Contrarily, when consumers customized fit-related attributes, there was a significant value upside for the full customization approach enabled by AM technology. We revealed that both, product involvement and attitude toward customization influenced WTP positively. Further, we deduct theoretical and managerial implications when enhancing customization with AM and outline directions for future research. Overall, this research project highlights AM’s potential of (1) Disrupting cost paradigms of conventional manufacturing systems, (2) Changing market structures and increasing available product variety, (3) Creating a value increment when offering highly customized products, (4) Enhancing MC offerings from a modular choice to continuous adjustments in a product’s solution space, and (5) Facilitating an enhanced market segmentation strategy.In three research papers, arguments leading to these highlights are discussed while downsides of AM technology are presented, too. Different factors may hinder that these potentials can be fully unleashed such as e.g., high marginal production costs, reliability in meeting quality requirements and reproducibility of parts, availability of printable materials, or the lack of appropriate intellectual property rights (IP) and product design skills to fully exploit AM’s technological opportunities.


  • URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:82-rwth-2015-040337
  • REPORT NUMBER: RWTH-2015-04033