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How additive manufacturing allows products to absorb variety in use: empirical evidence from the defensive industry

Ng, Irene; Davies, Philip; Alves, Kyle; Parry, Glenn


Irene Ng

Philip Davies

Kyle Alves
Senior Lecturer in Operations Mgt.

Glenn Parry
Academic Associate Lecturer - BAM


The operations and supply chain management the normative assumption holds that a product's structural and functional elements are fixed pre-production to support efficiency of operations. Firms moving from manufacturing to service are faced with delivering resource for customers in context and absorbing variety in use provides them with a number of challenges. This paper examines AM as a technology that efficiently provides high variety that meets emergent user demand. A single case study is undertaken, drawing upon design change data and in-depth interviews with industry experts. Findings show that in non-digitised environments, introducing design changes to modular products through life creates complexity, where complexity refers to increasing interdependencies between components in the product architecture that lead to increased coordination costs between internal and external supply chains. We find that advances in AM can act as a supply chain solution, managing complexity and allowing products and supply chains to efficiently and effectively adapt close to context of use. Findings suggest that existing theory must expand beyond the normative assumption that the physical product is fixed and the intangible service elements adapt to absorb variety, to include cases where the tangible product can absorb variety to meet emergent need.

Journal Article Type Article
Print ISSN 0953-7287
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
APA6 Citation Ng, I., Davies, P., Alves, K., & Parry, G. (in press). How additive manufacturing allows products to absorb variety in use: empirical evidence from the defensive industry. Production Planning and Control,
Keywords servitization; variability; modularity, additive manufacturing; supply chain management