Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Ratio Working Papers,
The Ratio Institute

No 262: Adopting 3D Printing for manufacturing - The case of the hearing aid industry

Christian Sandström ()
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Christian Sandström: The Ratio Institute and Chalmers University of Technology, Postal: The Ratio Institute, P.O. Box 5095, SE-102 42 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: 3D Printing technologies have received extensive attention in recent years, but empirical investigations of how this technology is used for manufacturing are still sparse. More knowledge is also needed regarding how 3D Printing will affect the competitive dynamics between firms. This article explores how 3D Printing has been adopted for manufacturing and discusses under what conditions it might have disruptive effects for established firms. Drawing upon data from the global hearing aid industry's adoption of 3D Printing during the period 1999-2007, this paper describes some of the benefits of using the technology, while also pointing out some of the challenges firms encounter in making this transition. The study shows that early adopters were exposed to more technological uncertainty related to choosing printers. All firms encountered operational challenges as 3D Printing required new skill sets, but the technology had little impact on the competitive dynamics of this industry. The paper also discusses how these findings apply to other industries where 3D Printing is currently emerging.

Keywords: Digital Fabrication; 3D Printing; Hearing aid industry; Disruptive Innovation; Technological Discontinuities.

JEL-codes: M10; O32

19 pages, December 23, 2015

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