Local on-demand fabrication: microfactories and online manufacturing platforms

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This article explores a particular on-demand fabrication unit, the microfactory (MF). It identifies and contrasts several MFs and proposes a taxonomy. This research also explores online manufacturing platforms (OMP) that complement certain MFs. Design/methodology/approach: This research implements a multiple case study (71 cases in 21 countries), triangulating data available on the web with interviews, virtual/physical tours and experiential research. Findings: The results suggest that automation and openness are the main dimensions that differentiate the MFs. Using these dimensions, a taxonomy of MFs is created. MFs with relatively low automation and high openness tend to be innovation-driven microfactories (IDMFs). MFs with high automation and low openness levels tend to be customization-driven microfactories (CDMFs). And MFs with relatively low automation and low openness tend to be classic machine shops (MSs). There are two types of OMP: closed (COMPs) and multisided (MOMPs). MOMPs can be low-end or high-end. Practical implications: In a world where online platforms are becoming central to the reinvention of manufacturing, multisided online platforms and small fabricators will become strongly symbiotic. Originality/value: This paper offers a clearer conceptualization of MFs and OMPs, which may help to better understand the reality of local on-demand fabrication. Moreover, it explores a new type of experiential research, which tries to describe and interpret firms through transactional activities. Many details of a firm that are difficult to capture via interviews and netnography can be revealed this way.
Keywords: on-demand fabrication, local manufacture, microfactories, online manufacturing platforms, multisided platforms, digital manufacturing, additive manufacturing, case studies, experiential research
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberAhead of print
JournalJournal of Manufacturing Technology Management
VolumeAhead of print
StatePublished - Oct 19 2020
Externally publishedYes


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