Additive manufacturing as a socio-technical system

Regina Frei, Nils Bausch

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The enthusiasm for 3D printing is quickly spreading around the world. Technological advances in 3D printing and other techniques initially intended for rapid prototyping make it possible to produce sophisticated parts with relatively simple means. While it gives people the possibility to fabricate sophisticated objects by themselves, it comes with challenges and considerable drawbacks. 3D printers using recycled materials are still rare, and the rubbish island swimming in the Oceans is growing fast. Additive manufacturing leads to a change in the manufacturing world involving technology and society. With the integration of 3D scanning, virtual design worlds, and 3D printing, the separation between the physical and virtual worlds gradually vanishes. Being able to produce almost anything anywhere and at any time will lead to changes in the way industrial manufacturing and supply chains work – reducing transportation but also efficiency. People will increasingly produce things at home or in local manufacturing communities, using both original and self-made designs. This has implications for the environment, intellectual property laws, the economy and other aspects like safety and security. This article analyses the trend towards personal manufacturing and its many implications. Sketching a socio-technical model of this emerging system, it makes preliminary recommendations for regulating policies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-33
JournalInternational Journal of Latest Engineering and Management Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2016


  • socio-technical systems
  • manufacturing
  • 3D printing
  • sustainability
  • recycling
  • supply chain
  • policy


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