The Diffusion of Additive Manufacturing in the Medical Industry
Abstract: Background: There has been a recent hype regarding three-dimensional printing (3DP) and additive manufacturing (AM). Especially the medical industry is often seen as a field for successful AM applications, producing customized products. Yet, it is not clear whether this hype is based on real developments, or on an unfounded surge in media interest. At the same time, studies on AM do not attempt to assess whether it is going to be diffused, but preempt that it will be. Consequently, there is a lack of knowledge about the diffusion of AM. Studies on diffusion are limited by mostly taking an individual stakeholder perspective, even though the context of the innovation affects its diffusion. Therefore, studies from a systemic perspective are needed to accurately analyze diffusion. Purpose: The purpose of the study is to examine the diffusion of AM in the medical industry through the lens of diffusion of innovations theory and answer two research questions: What are the factors influencing the diffusion of additive manufacturing in the medical industry? How do these factors affect the diffusion? Method: To study diffusion in a clearly circumscribed system, the Swedish medical industry is used as a case study object. The study employs an exploratory, qualitative research design with the help of semi-structured interviews. Propositions are made to place limits on the study's scope and increase its feasibility. Those are tested against empirical data that was gathered in 30 interviews with various stakeholders from academia, industry and government. The subsequent analysis is carried out based on coding and thematic analysis. Conclusion: The social system and the innovation's attributes together clearly affect the diffusion of AM in the medical industry. AM's relative advantage and trialability affect the diffusion positively, whereas its observability, compatibility, complexity and re-invention have a negative effect. Physicians as opinion leaders, the weak network structures of the Swedish medical industry and the high levels of authoritative decision-making each have a negative effect on diffusion. The usage of interpersonal communication has a positive effect on diffusion. Additionally, three interrelations between factors are found: the complexity of an innovation affects the use of communication channels, the actions of opinion leaders and change agents are found to affect social structure and innovation-decisions have an effect on the observability. Contribution: The study underpins the need for a systemic view, when analyzing diffusion. It clarifies that studies of single factors are not accurate enough to explain diffusion, as interrelations between the social system's factors and the innovation's factors have been found. Additionally, it expands on the initial diffusion of innovations framework, by adding the factor re-invention which affects how potential adopters perceive the innovation.
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