Friday, May 27, 2016

3-D Printers Barriers to Entry

Lawson, Andrew
            After reading Michael Porter’s “The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy,” it struck me how relevant is to a challenge my department is currently facing.  The 3-D printing process has become a very popular technology amongst our customers.  What was once a technology that came at a high price has now become very inexpensive and easy technology to take advantage of with more and more 3-D printers on the market.  This can be attributed to the removal of barriers to entry.  In particular, these factors include economies of scale and decreasing the advantages by incumbents. 
            As it relates to economies of scale, growing interest in the technology by industry and now hobbyists groups, are purchasing components in larger and larger quantities.  This in turn drives down consumer price which makes it more attractive to consumers as a whole.  Further, the software that is required to drive this technology has become more affordable and easier to access.
            Patents and the like have largely expired and as a result, those advantages are no longer enjoyed by incumbents.  As such, what was once a market dominated by just a few competitors has become flooded with rival companies who offer printers and software.  Now consumers can purchase this technology at box stores. 
            This poses a challenge to my department as it relates to the health and safety effects of this technology.  These devices typically use a heat source to heat plastics which can pose an inhalation hazard to those using the device but also in the locale.  Also, the finished product requires cleaning with a caustic or solvent to remove any residual chemicals used in the process.  This can pose skin, eye, and inhalation hazards and also may require proper disposal via a hazardous stream,  Given that the barriers to entry for this technology have dissipated, more and more 3-D printers and being purchased without our knowledge so some may be exposed to hazards they may not be aware of.  Although we have developed fact sheets that discuss the issues with 3-D printers, the end user may not know they exist and thus, we must develop a strategy to inform such customers. 

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