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For more than 30 years, 3D Printing has developed different technologies that were inaccessible for long. Since 2009, the technology developments regarding this technology have made many of this processes available for experimentation, from the most complicated metal sintering machines to the desktop-sized “Makerbot Replicators”. The use of these machines has created huge expectations around concepts like “economies of one”, “mass customization”, “distributed manufacturing” and “generative design”.  Yet, we have not been able to understand completely how are we supposed to work with these digital technologies.

Surprisingly, there exists two schools of research that can give us a model to understand the implications we are looking for: Product Architecture models & Creative Entrepreneurship. Since the 1980’s product architecture has been a hot topic among technology management researchers. Product Architecture is the formal term we use to show how components in a product and their functions relate to each other. Since us humans categorize problems in boxes in order to solve them box by box, the way we arrange this components can have huge consequences in the way we arrange our thinking boxes. For instance, if you fabricate a wagon where every single part is attached to the other parts of the cart, every time we want to modify its shape, we will be forced to modify all the parts. This will make us re-work the design of the wagon every time we have a problem or a new idea. Nevertheless, if we group its parts in smaller subsystems, everytime we need to modify the product, we will only be forced to modify the group that includes the new idea. This is very important because every time we separate components, we also separate the teams that will design and fabricate them. As a result, the rest of the business operation like; policies, budgets, and strategies are also affected by the way we separate them. Businesses rise and fall based on their product architecture decisions.

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The second school that can help us is Creative Entrepreneurship. Contrary to traditional entrepreneurship thinking, Creative Entrepreneurship suggests that opportunities for business creation are not discovered but built. In the words of researchers Sharon Alvarez & Jay Barney, traditional entrepreneurship is focused in mountain climbing while creative entrepreneurship is focused on mountain building. Creative Entrepreneurship demonstrates that entrepreneurs interact with their surroundings to create a product that is “valuable and meaningful” to the group of people in it. Accordingly, they build an early version of their idea and show it to others. Both parts negotiate the way the product is composed (or Product Architecture 😉) and agree to become partners (or not). Therefore, the business starts growing according to the Product Architecture.

When we insert Digital Manufacturing Technologies like 3D printing, things become more interesting. For starters, with a 3D Printer one can print one product one day and another the next day. Does this mean that we could have an organization one day and another the second? With a 3D printer, we can add features to the product as long as we still have space inside the printing volume. Does this mean that we can include more negotiations with more people and make bigger businesses? Additionally 3D printing also merges the roles of DESIGNERS and MANUFACTURERS. Does this mean that we will merge the Product Architecture and Entrepreneurship strategies with the fabrication of our projects? What is the impact of new product design tools in the creation of our businesses?

This research project looks for the answers of these questions with the purpose of creating new ways of modeling new businesses using these Digital Fabrication Technologies. We run studies, workshops and experiments with 3D-printing in collaboration with startup HUBS, FABLABS, and fellow researchers. If you are a member of a startup HUB, a FABLAB, own a 3D Printer, or just interested in starting your own business stay tuned with us!

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