School of Business publications portal
This portal is no longer updated. Aalto University School of Business Master's Theses are now in the Aaltodoc publication archive (Aalto University institutional repository)
School of Business | Department of Management Studies | International Business | 2014
Thesis number: 13730
The proliferation of a new-market disruptive innovation: case personal 3D printers
Author: Sauramo, Heljo
Title: The proliferation of a new-market disruptive innovation: case personal 3D printers
Year: 2014  Language: eng
Department: Department of Management Studies
Academic subject: International Business
Index terms: kansainväliset yhtiöt; international companies; liiketalous; business economics; innovaatiot; innovations; teknologia; technology; kodinkoneet; domestic utensils; trendit; economic trends
Pages: 129
Full text:
» hse_ethesis_13730.pdf pdf  size:2 MB (1741353)
Key terms: innovations, disruptive innovations, 3D printing, additive manufacturing, open innovation, open source
Ever since Clayton Christensen's 1997 book "The Innovator's Dilemma" on disruptive innovations, the theory has received considerable scholarly as well as business management attention, with some even calling it "groundbreaking". Its key premise - that entrant companies with products of inferior performance can displace established companies - continues to be a prominent subject of management and innovation research. Like any trailblazing theory, it has also stirred criticism and aroused alternative explanations, contributing to its ongoing evolution. There nevertheless exists a considerable amount of concrete examples in the literature of various products, companies and industries where an entrant company or product did indeed disrupt the established actors. Christensen (2000) found that such disruptive innovations tend to be smaller, simpler, cheaper, more reliable and convenient that established or preceding products, and still based on existing technologies.

These characteristics bring us to view the recent proliferation of personal 3D printers in a new light. Recent media attention has led some authors - and popular media - to consider 3D printing as a new disruptive technology, even though the technology has existed for a good quarter of a century. Also, disruption is a relative phenomenon, meaning that there must be an established product to disrupt. However, the recent expiry of certain patents and the birth of an open-source 3D printer project have led to the advent of a class of considerably low-priced, consumer-grade 3D printers. These seem to fit Christensen's (2000) characteristics of a typical disruptive innovation remarkably well, yet the notion of personal 3D printers as a potential disruptive innovation doesn't seem to have been researched in any detail and thus the knowledge on the phenomenon is scattered.

The purpose of this case study is to study the proliferation of personal printers in detail and address whether they can indeed be considered a disruptive innovation. This entails studying e.g. the factors leading to their advent, the differences between the personal printers and entry-level industrial ones, business models, unit sales, prices, market shares and industry revenue. Based on Christensen's (2000) suggestion, also the development of personal 3D printers' performance over time is charted and compared to entry-level industrial printers as well as assumed performance demands of the market.

My results indicate that personal 3D printers meet the general criteria for a (new-market) disruptive innovation, yet their proliferation has occurred in a fashion that doesn't cause immediate consequences for individual incumbent companies, even though the total 3D printer market has no doubt been disrupted by the new product and new entrants. The case supports the view of significant market expansion as a result of a disruptive innovation's entry.
Electronic publications are subject to copyright. The publications can be read freely and printed for personal use. Use for commercial purposes is forbidden.