What Do Consumers Use 3D Printers For?

44 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2015

See all articles by Sascha Friesike

Sascha Friesike

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Hendrik Send

Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft

Robin Tech

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Date Written: August 20, 2014

Abstract

Many authors attribute 3D printing technologies with the potential to revolutionize the production process of physical goods. However, insights on what users actually print in 3D remain in high demand. For the first time, 3D printing allows us to study how user innovators diffuse their creations on a large scale. To better understand this, we examined the world’s largest 3D printing platform called Thingiverse. We examined 12,616 individual objects, which accounted for 50 percent of the platform’s total downloads. We found that most objects belonged to the so-called category ‘3D Printing’ and that the growth rates of the ‘Household’, ‘Models’, and ‘Toys & Games’ categories outpaced all other main categories. We argue that user innovators in 3D printing do not only innovate for the reasons present in theory. Besides the user innovation that serves a niche market and the user innovation that responds to consumer demands which are not yet known to firms, the activities on Thingiverse suggest a third form of user innovation. We label this form of innovation ‘substitutional design’. They are mere substitutes for known and available solutions, but innovative in their creation and production processes. Lastly, we investigated the complexity of the designs available on Thingiverse, exposing that — contrary to theory — designs tend to become simpler as the platform grows.

Keywords: 3D printing, user innovation, online communities, Thingiverse

JEL Classification: O3, L64, D2, L23

Suggested Citation

Friesike, Sascha and Send, Hendrik and Tech, Robin, What Do Consumers Use 3D Printers For? (August 20, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2547528 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2547528

Sascha Friesike

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society ( email )

Bebelplatz 1 | 10099
Berlin
Germany

Hendrik Send

Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft ( email )

Französische Straße 9
Berlin, 10117
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.hiig.de/staff/dr-hendrik-send/

Robin Tech (Contact Author)

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society ( email )

Oberwallstraße 9
Berlin, 10117
Germany
+49 30 2007 6097 (Phone)
+49 30 2060 8960 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.hiig.de

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