The direct digital manufacturing (r)evolution: definition of a research agenda

Jan Holmström*, Matthias Holweg, Siavash Haghighat Khajavi, Jouni Partanen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


Direct digital manufacturing, or ‘3D printing’ as it is more commonly known, offers a wealth of opportunities for product and process innovation, and is often touted to ‘revolutionize’ today’s manufacturing operations and its associated supply chains structures. Despite a growing number of successful 3D printing applications, however, evidence of any displacement of traditional manufacturing is limited. In this paper we seek to separate hype surrounding DDM from economic reality in order to ground the future research agenda for the Operations Management field. By opposing direct digital manufacturing with traditional tool-based manufacturing, we show that direct digital manufacturing so far lags behind by several orders of magnitude compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Yet we also find that direct digital manufacturing clearly is on an improvement trajectory that eventually will see it being able to compete with traditional manufacturing on a unit cost basis. As such we conclude that direct digital manufacturing will increasingly challenge operations management researchers to question established practices such as scheduling, batch sizing and inventory management in low-volume, high-variety contexts. Furthermore, an increasing adoption of direct digital manufacturing will drive structural shifts in the supply chain that are not yet well understood. We summarize these challenges by defining the research agenda at factory, supply chain, and operations strategy level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • 3D printing
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Direct digital manufacturing
  • Process innovation
  • Supply chain structure


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