3D Printing and Product Assortment Strategy
49 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2016 Last revised: 15 Feb 2020
Date Written: February 14, 2020
3D printing, as a production technology, distinguishes from conventional technologies in three characteristics: design freedom, i.e., it can handle certain product designs that conventional technologies cannot; quality differentiation, i.e., for the same product design, it might achieve a different quality, higher or lower than that of conventional technologies; and natural flexibility, i.e., it is endowed with capacity flexibility without sacrificing operational efficiency. This paper investigates the joint impact of these characteristics when a firm selects conceptual designs to form its product assortment, taking into account each design's production technology choice from 3D printing and two conventional technologies: dedicated and traditional flexible. Some designs can be handled by any technology (generic), whereas the others are specific to 3D printing (3D-specific). The firm selects designs to be handled by each technology and then invests accordingly in technology adoption, product development, capacity, and production. We characterize the structure of the optimal assortment based on the popularity of each design. Within the sets of generic designs and 3D-specific designs, respectively, the most popular designs should be selected into the assortment; under a mild condition, the optimal assortment comprises the most popular ones among all the designs. Within the optimal assortment, 3D printing should handle the less popular generic designs than conventional technologies. We further demonstrate that a greater design freedom or higher quality of 3D printing may reduce product variety. In the absence of design freedom and quality differentiation, natural flexibility by itself always enhances product variety; by contrast, the traditional flexible technology may reduce product variety. Numerical study shows that 3D printing tends to be more valuable when popularities of the generic designs have a lower Gini index and when popularities of the 3D-specific designs have a higher Gini index.
Keywords: 3D printing; assortment; product design; flexible technology; multinomial logit model
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