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Seminario Stefano Denicolai



3D printing, outsourcing and offshoring relationships in GVC

Seminario di Stefano Denicolai, Università di Pavia

The Industry 4.0 scenario is attracting increasing interest from policy makers, think tanks and research. According to McKinsey (2015), “this is the fourth major upheaval in modern manufacturing, following the lean revolution of the 1970s, the outsourcing phenomenon of the 1990s, and the automation that took off in the 2000s.”  In this scenario, one of the technological transformations is represented by additive manufacturing and 3D printing. BCG (2016) states that “Companies have just begun to adopt additive manufacturing, such as 3-D printing, which they use mostly to prototype and produce individual components.” The increasing adoption of these technologies will transform production economics paradigms (from of scale to economies of one), will open new ways to  design, manufacture and market goods and manage customer relationships. After years where 3D printing has been used especially for rapid prototyping purposes, now this technology is more and more affecting the all value chain: optimization of logistics, 3D Farms, demonstrations in marketing, and so on.
International business will also be affected, in ways that still require understanding. Above all, the organization and management of global value chains are subject to potentially disruptive changes. The advent of new technologies might in fact change the relationship with suppliers and could even determine processes of back sourcing and backshoring, with deep consequences on global trade flows and on the location of manufacturing activities (Janssen et al, 2014). ), as also empirically found by a recent survey of University of Pavia (2016).
A recent article published in JIBS  -and one of the very few theoretical contributions on the issue-  brings up “questions about how this new technology can affect the geographic span and density of GVCs. Potentially, wider adoption of this technology has the potential to partially reverse the trend towards global specialization of production systems into elements that may be geographically dispersed and closer to the end users (localization). This leaves the question of whether in some industries diffusion of 3D printing technologies may change the role of multinational enterprises as coordinators of GVCs by inducing the engagement of a wider variety of firms, even households.” (Laplume et al., 2016).
The paper aims at exploring the possible changes in outsourcing and offshoring relationships in GVCs, with special reference to the impact of additive manufacturing and 3D printing. The study the implications for the practice of management, particularly on the decisions about the location of economic activities and about in/out/backsourcing.
Preliminary findings of a empirical survey based on 300 questionnaires will be presented and discussed.