Sustainable innovation: Additive manufacturing and the emergence of a cyclical take-make-transmigrate process at a pioneering industry–university collaboration
James R. Rose, Neeraj Bharadwaj
kHUB post date: July 27, 2023
Originally published: March 29, 2023 (PDMA JPIM • Vol. 40, Issue 4 • July 2023)
Read time: 50 minutes
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Innovation experts posit that digital technologies—such as additive manufacturing (AM)—can address societal challenges and change the nature of work and collaboration. In recognition, this special issue encourages researchers to investigate how AM can be leveraged to reduce environmental externalities and devote greater attention to the production of 3D printed items. This article integrates academic research on new product development and the cradle-to-cradle philosophy with insights gleaned from long-term case observations across a series of large-scale AM projects to advance that 3D printing can unleash three pivotal adaptations to the traditional conception-development-launch ecosystem. Specifically, our direct participation in designing and building multiple 3D printed products reveals that: (1) spent products can possess valuable ingredient materials that can be repurposed, (2) the reduced structural strength of the reclaimed material can be a positive force insofar as spawning innovation in a new product category, and (3) manufacturing should appear as an independent stage in new product development. On this last point, our completed projects align with recent observations that newer AM technologies can make prototyping and manufacturing products easier, faster, and less expensive. Accordingly, we advance a cyclical sustainable innovation process, which consists of ideation, development, AM output (i.e., manufacturing), and material reclamation. This research is both theoretically meaningful and pragmatically useful. It addresses knowledge gaps regarding AM in the academic literature and spawns new research questions for innovation scholars. For managers, it provides a path to supplant the wasteful take-make-dispose production model with the more efficient and effective take-make-transmigrate approach that we deem an innovation loop. Specifically, our final built project—a 3D designed and printed chair that uses polymers from the spent chassis of a 3D printed car—serves as a proof of concept that AM can be a catalyst to a paradigmatic shift in how products are made.