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The 3D printing order: variability, supercenters and supply chain reconfigurations

Amir Sasson (BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway)
John Chandler Johnson (BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway)

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

ISSN: 0960-0035

Article publication date: 8 February 2016




Direct digital manufacturing (DDM) is conceived of as either disrupting the entire manufacturing economy or merely enabling novel production. The purpose of this paper is to introduce an alternative where DDM coexists with and complements traditional mass production. When multiple parts run across one manufacturing line, DDM can isolate variability associated with low volume part production and may be preferred to mass production despite being expensive. If DDM complements rather than cannibalizes mass production, this alters the understanding of who adopts DDM, the products built with DDM, and DDM’s long-term supply chain implications.


This invited paper explores a DDM rollout scenario and qualitatively assesses potential supply chain reconfigurations.


The analysis recognizes that existing manufacturers with heterogeneous bills-of-material may develop DDM capabilities to isolate disruptive, low-volume production from scalable mass production. Developing DDM competence and raw material scale advantages, these manufacturers become the locus of change in a manufacturing landscape increasingly characterized by multi-product DDM supercenters.


Extant research largely focusses on two potential reasons for DDM adoption: cost-per-unit and time-to-delivery comparisons. The authors explore a third driver: DDM’s capacity to isolate manufacturing variability attributable to low volume parts. Relative to the extant literature, this suggests a different DDM rollout, different adopters, and a different supply chain configuration. The authors identify mass manufacturing variability reduction as the mechanism through which DDM may be adopted. This adoption trajectory would eventually enable a supply chain transition in which spare parts inventory migrates from finished goods at proprietary facilities to raw materials at generalized DDM supercenters.



Sasson, A. and Johnson, J.C. (2016), "The 3D printing order: variability, supercenters and supply chain reconfigurations", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 46 No. 1, pp. 82-94.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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