Is 3D Printing a Disruptive Innovation?

My work on 3D Printing and the Hearing aid industry is now published in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change. The paper can be retrieved here. The abstract can be found below:

3D Printing technologies have received extensive attention in recent years, but empirical investigations of how this technology is used for manufacturing are still sparse. More knowledge is also needed regarding how 3D Printing affects the competitive dynamics between firms. This article explores how 3D Printing has been adopted for manufacturing and discusses under what conditions it might influence competition in different industries. Drawing upon data from the global hearing aid industry’s adoption of 3D Printing during the period 1989–2008, this paper describes some of the benefits of using the technology, while also pointing out challenges firms encounter in making this transition. The study shows that early adopters were exposed to more technological uncertainty related to choosing printers. All firms encountered operational challenges as 3D Printing required new skill sets, but the technology had little impact on the competitive dynamics of this industry. Drawing upon literature on technological discontinuities, platforms and ecosystems, the paper illustrates and explains why the technology was not disruptive and also discusses how these findings apply to other industries where 3D Printing is currently gaining momentum.

Full reference:
Sandström, C. (2015) The non-disruptive emergence of an Ecosystem for 3D Printing – Insights from the Hearing aid industry’s transition 1989-2008, Technological Forecasting & Social Change,doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2015.09.006.

Är 3D Printing en Industriell Revolution?

På ESBRIs föreläsningsserie Estrad, föreläste jag den 1:e oktober om huruvida 3D Printing är en industriell revolution eller inte. Detta gjordes med utgångspunkt i min egen kartläggning av hörapparatsindustrins övergång till att använda tekniken för tillverkning av snäckor.

Föreläsningen kan ses på Esbris hemsida, här.

EFN Web TV gjorde en intervju, den kan ses här.

Tidningen Ingenjören skrev också om föreläsningen här.

3D Printing of Hearing Aids at Widex, Denmark

This Thursday I visited the Danish hearing aid manufacturer Widex to see some of their 3D Printing of shells. Klaus Vaarbroe at Widex has developed Widex’ 3D Printing process over the past 11 years. He was very hospitable, showed me around and explained the different steps: order intake, scanning, modeling, printing, mounting and polishing. He also shared some images of the process (the first three pictures below).




With 3D Printing instead of manual labor, 50 percent of the previous workforce is now doing four times as much work – an eight fold productivity increase in Widex’ manufacturing of hearing aid shells. It should also be pointed out that the quality of 3D Printed shells is substantially higher.


Widex headquarter, in Lynge, north of Copenhagen, Denmark.


An old Hearing aid shell that was produced using Selective Laser Sintering (a form of 3D Printing) back in the early 2000s, a technology that was eventually rejected by Widex and the other hearing aid manufacturers.


Widex was just recently received the European Patent Award for having patented the use of 3D Printing to make hearing aid shells.