Co-creation and user innovation: The role of online 3D printing platforms.


People were able to print three-dimensional (3D) objects from a digital files since the 1980’s. Ever since people have tried to improve and redevelop the 3D printing process. Just like you would need a graphic design for printing something 2D, you will need a 3D design for printing something in 3D. Many people have already discussed the impact of 3D printing and 3D designing in contrast to more traditional ways to create products. Nowadays you can either get your 3D design online or even create it yourself.

fig 1

Consumer as a source of innovation

Co-creation can be described as the customer part in open innovation. There are two types of co-creation; sponsored and autonomous. In the sponsored type of co-creation, companies initiate a program were consumers are actively asked to co-create. When customers co-create without any incentives from companies we call this autonomous. Co-creation is associated with mass-customization, but mass-customization does not always involves co-creation. In the figure 1 you can see the relation between those 3 components.

Categorizing co-creation

In this part I am going to categorize co-creation in a 2 x 2 matrix ( table 2). On the vertical axis I will look if the role of the consumer is differentiated or integrated. On the horizontal-axis I will look if the product has mass-market or mass-customization purpose. The most common type of co-creation is the most upper left box: Crowdsourcing and Social media. However, with the upcoming disruptive 3D print technology the mass-customization box keeps growing.


Services offered by 3D print platforms

Since the first 3D printing platform was just found in 2007, these platforms focused in a service they could offer to customers. Some forms are more focused on the co-creation part, those will be discussed here. The first service is design customization, here a design can be customized by the user of the platform. This for is not a pure form of co-creation because off the fact that the customized parts are suggested by the company and not by the user. The next service is co-design service, here the platforms offers assistance to transform a 2D image into a 3D model. This form is the upcoming co-creation service that will expand with the growth of 3D print technology. The role of the consumer will be integrated within the platform to mass-customize products. The last service  is design crowdsourcing, here a consumer can post his idea and ask the crowd to come up with the design. This is a combination of the differentiated role of the consumer and the mass-customization for the product.

Co-creation and 3D printing platforms

Every 3D printing platform has its own special co-creation service, but the lines are blurred between the services and I will categorize the 3D print platforms into 4 different ones. First we have the printing marketplace, were people can upload their design and it get printed bye users. Second there is printing services,  were users can upload their design and the platform print it. Third there is design marketplace, here users can buy designs of the platform. Finally there are crowdsourcing platforms, here  every kind of co-create service is offered. In the following table you can see the categorized 3D print platforms that exist today.

tabl 2

Rayna, T., Striukova, L. and Darlington, J. (2015). Co-creation and user innovation: The role of online 3D printing platforms. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 37, pp.90-102.


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