The Establishment of Interest Groups for Promoting Sustainable Production Through Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing (AM) technologies can enable transitions to circular business models in production and repairs, but the uptake is not as rapid as some would like. This article describes the establishment of interest groups in support of AM in the Nordic countries, with a special focus on Norway. Action research conducted over four years detailed the process leading up to Norway's first national AM organization, established in June 2022. This development followed the emergence of similar organizations in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. The industry led approach taken in these countries is compared to the publicly funded AM cluster in Singapore, a country with a clear national aim of mastering AM. By highlighting similarities and differences between these countries, the article aims to provide regulators and policy makers new insights into the drivers and barriers connected to the twin green and digital transition to sustainable manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing, interest groups, digital transition
Interest groups can have an important impact on the adoption and spread of new technologies (Bridgman, Livshits, and MacGee 2007). Sometimes, vested interests mobilize to hinder the transition to new production regimes, while other times organizations decide to work in favor of technological change (Doblinger and Soppe 2013). This makes it important to understand how interest groups form and how they operate. The focus of the current article is how various national and international interest groups formed to promote the adoption of additive manufacturing (AM; also known as industrial 3D-printing and rapid prototyping/production) in the Nordic countries.
For the purpose of this paper, we define interest groups as organized groups of individuals sharing common objectives who actively attempt to influence policy makers. The political aspirations of the group can be present from the start or appear over time. For this reason, we are also interested in the emergence of other forms of collaboration, such as clusters and networks, that may transition into interest groups.
AM, an umbrella term for seven different manufacturing processes, is commonly regarded as a more sustainable alternative to subtractive production methods, such as machining (Faludi and Van Sice 2020). With AM, physical objects are created from digital models by fusing together layers of deposited material. The shape of the object determines how much material is used, and for hollow or complex geometries material savings can be substantial (Jia, Li, and Zhang 2020). In addition, AM is suitable for making spare parts on demand (Heinen and Hoberg 2019), reducing the need for warehousing of slow moving parts (Knofius, van der Heijden, and Zijm 2019) and, if used in a distributed supply chain, AM can drastically shorten transportation distances (Holmström et al. 2010). For the right applications, AM machines can make spare parts available quicker and cheaper than before. As a result, AM has the potential to disrupt business models related to manufacturing, maintenance, and repair in almost any industry.
The potential of AM to make production more sustainable aligns well with political agendas such as UN millennium development goal 12 Responsible consumption and production. But the adoption and spread of AM technologies is still low in most industries and parts of the world (Andrenelli and González 2021). While some studies investigate company specific determinants of adoption of AM (see Ukobitz 2020 for a recent review), few are concerned with the interorganizational dynamics at play. Also Kianian et al. (2016) who study the adoption of AM in Sweden is predominantly concerned with company observable characteristics and only identify two drivers: being a small sized company and owning multiple AM technologies. As such, this paper seeks to address a knowledge gap that may be important for understanding large scale industrialization of AM beyond the level of prototyping.
Some governments have taken a very active approach to exploiting the purported benefits of AM. Prominent examples include Singapore's 10-year plan "Singapore Manufacturing 2030 Vision" and the United Arab Emirates' national strategy from 2017: "UAE's Fourth Industrial Revolution Strategy". In comparison, the Nordic countries have chosen a market-oriented approach with less direct intervention from public agencies. This has spurred the formation of several private sector interest groups that aim to promote AM through networking and knowledge sharing.
A traditional approach to studying technology diffusion has been to consider the role of change agents (Rogers 2003). They are individuals who are motivated to facilitate change by inspiring others. In the case of AM, the innovation in question is systemic and affects the whole supply chain. The barriers include the need for new materials, specialized equipment and software, design considerations, post processing procedures, standards and classification guidelines, skills, and more (Halvorsen and Lamvik 2021; Olsen et al. 2020). This complexity makes it difficult for individual change agents to make the transition happen by themselves. Often, it is more effective to seek collaboration across industries and disciplines and form a coordinated and influential interest group.
How interest groups for AM come to be, how they develop and the actions they take is described in detail below. The results show that the process is different from case to case, but also that there are some generalizable similarities, such as the involvement of universities and research institutes. A second important commonality is the presence of a large company that functions as a “trail blazer” and is able to attract more members to the group by providing legitimacy, optimism and a sense of both stability and predictability during the transition. Some important differences are the initial source of the initiative, the paths taken, the time it takes to organize, the governance model and the role of public government.in the process.
The following section describes the applied methodology. Section 3 describes the interest groups and professional networks that were identified in the study, and these results are discussed in section 4. Section 5 concludes with suggestions for further research.
The data collection relies on methods from action research (Greenwood and Levin 2006), supplemented with qualitative data from online sources. The approach is similar to explorative case study research (Mills, Durepos, and Wiebe 2010), but action research places the researcher inside the environment that is the object of study and allows learning while also influencing the surroundings. It also has similarities with ethnographic fieldwork (Van Maanen 2011), another approach that also enables researchers to transition between inside and outside a community. The primary methods have been observation by attending various networking activities in Norway during 2019-2023, and interviews with network managers and members.
The focus on Norway was initially a choice of convenience, as it is the country of residence for the author. As the work progressed, Norway became the last of the Nordic countries to launch a national AM interest group. That made it a particularly interesting case, since it presented question of why the development had taken longer in Norway than in the other Nordic countries? The Danish and Swedish organizations existed already before the study began.
The data collection included participation in meetings in the Nordic AM Network (in 2019) and the AM Energy Network (2021-2023), presenting research at the first Norwegian AM conferences in 2021, and organizing the second Norwegian AM conference in 2023. Over time, there has been numerous interactions with AM-related companies and companies seeking to know more about AM. This has provided a continuous exposure to the ongoing efforts of research organizations and private companies to put AM on the national agenda in Norway.
For the purpose of this article, semi-structured interviews were held with key employees at five Norwegian companies central to the establishment of the Norwegian AM interest group and tree interviews with companies engaged in AM activities that have not become a member of the group. Audio recorded online interviews with the managers of the Danish AM Hub, FAME and the Swedish Arena for AM of Metals were used to expand on information obtained from their official websites and social media posts (LinkedIn and Facebook). In November 2022, a field study was carried out to Singapore that included a visit to the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) and three of the eight AM centers that they fund. This gave additional information about the history, organizational structure and management of the Singaporean agency tasked with promoting AM in Singapore.
From the start, the goal of the activities has been to learn about the AM community, understand the motives and incentives for collaboration and provide advice that will help the community reach its objectives. Despite of the limited number of large companies that have adopted AM-technologies in Norway, there is an underlying assumption that these networks will play a significant role in promoting the shift towards more sustainable production.
There are several organizational structures set up in the Nordic countries to promote the adoption of AM. They vary in the degree of formalization, from email lists, via project-based activities to jointly owned companies and organizations charging member fees. Most of the networks and arenas identified in this study are based on and encourage collaboration between academic institutions and private companies, sometimes with public support, and with several companies participating in more than one of the initiatives. Over the years, it became clear that each country has some companies that act as locomotives for creating awareness about AM. These are typically large enterprises that command attention from both their size and their talent pool. Within these companies there are a select group of individuals who work relentlessly to facilitate the transition to AM. Some of these people are named below in recognition of their efforts, but there are also many more who have made important contributions that will not be mentioned because that is not the focus of this article.
The key professional networks and interest groups related to promoting AM in Norway and the other Nordic countries are presented below. They are organized as initiatives originating from the private sector, initiatives from the public sector, Nordic interest groups and international organizations.
MMO JIP Digitalisering. At the Norwegian Modification conference in March 2018, Director for digitalization Brede Lærum and a colleague from Statoil (now renamed Equinor) presented a bullet list of how Maintenance Modifications and Operations (MMO) companies should digitalize. The list was intended as a roadmap for digitalization within the MMO industry and was segmented into six areas.1 One of the segments was "3D printing". The roadmap was developed in a Joint Industry Project (JIP) with participation by ABB, Statoil, Aker Solutions, Aibel, Wood, MRC Global, Kværner, WorleyParsons, Apply/Sørco and Karsten Moholt. Four of these companies later presented project results at the first national AM conference in 2021.
The Nordic AM Group (www.nordicamgroup.com). The group describes itself as "a collaborative AM initiative across the Nordic countries" and as "a catalyst in the eco-system to support Additive Manufacturing in the Northern countries". The group hosts annual meetings between researchers in AM and organizes medium length exchange of employees with AM competency between companies and countries, called AM internships. A steering committee is set up to take care of operative activities. As of January 1st, 2022, the steering committee consisted of Dansk AM Hub, SINTEF, 3DStep, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, Alfred Nobel Science Park and AMEXCI.2
The group had their first meeting in Stockholm in December 2018, with approx. 50 participants and Brede Lærum of Statoil as one of the speakers. On April 10-11th, 2019, the group met at the Telenor Arena, a conference venue in Oslo, in connection with the 3D Park at the 2019 Subsea Valley Conference and Exhibition. The Subsea Valley organization, now renamed Energy Valley, is an interest group for technology companies in the Norwegian oil and gas sector. It is recognized as a Norwegian Centre of Excellence by the Norwegian Innovation Cluster program.
The Norwegian AM conference. The first national conference on AM in Norway was held at the University of Stavanger in October 2021. The initiators were Jørgen Grønsund, VP Additive Engineering at Apply Capnor and Brede Lærum, Head of AM Centre of Excellence in Equinor. Until he started working in Apply Capnor in 2021, mr. Grønsund was head of a 3D-printing laboratory at the University of Stavanger. The venue for the conference was Innovasjonspark Stavanger, and the organizers were the Stavanger Chamber of Commerce and the University of Stavanger. Approximately 120 people participated. There were presentations of both academic research and industry projects, with a majority of presentations related to the energy and health sectors. Although the organizers hoped that the conference would become an annual event, it was not obvious that anyone would take responsibility for it. SINTEF, an applied research organization, represented by senior researcher Klas Boivie, agreed to arrange the next Norwegian AM conference in the city of Trondheim, where SINTEF has a metal AM laboratory. The second conference took place in March 2023 with 169 participants, cohosted by SINTEF and NTNU with a coordinator and program committee from the newly established Norwegian AM cluster.
The AM Energy network. The AM Energy network is a free for all international network for people interested in the application of AM in the Norwegian oil and gas sector. Biannual virtual meetings are organized via MS Teams as a collaboration between Equinor, with Brede Lærum as chairman, and DNV, a risk management and quality assurance provider, as administrator.3
The first network meeting was arranged on March 9th 2021, on the initiative of chief scientist Tor Dokken at SINTEF, with administrative support from the Energy Valley secretariat. Named "Additive Manufacturing Forum in Collaboration with SINTEF", the first section of the meeting introduced the AM Energy network to the participants and a second section provided information on how Norwegian SMBs could apply for funding for AM experiments in European research projects managed by Dokken. The second meeting was held on June 15th, 2021, as a four-hour meeting. After four company presentations, breakout sessions were used for interaction between participants. A third meeting was held on January 18th, 2022. This time a logo for the network was presented. The participants could provide input on a sub-committee structure via a collaborative power point, and Mentimeter.com was used as a tool to display the background of the participants. At least 15 out of approx. 70 participants were from non-Norwegian companies, such as 3D Metalforge (Australia), BMT Aerospace (Belgium), Molyworks (USA) and Petrobras (Brazil).4
Norsk Industri's Forum for Machining and Additive Manufacturing. The Federation of Norwegian Industries (Norsk Industri) is the largest interest group for Norwegian industrial companies. It has established a forum for knowledge exchange and initiation of joint projects on AM. The forum board consists of Torstein Tærum from Norsk Industri, Professor Knut Sørby from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and representatives from Window Automation, Nammo Raufoss, Fieldmade, Mechatronics Innovation Lab and Kongsberg Defence and Aeropace. The forum does not appear to be very active in external communication. In November 2019 the forum arranged a seminar on AM in the city of Trondheim as a closing activity in the Material Knowledge for Robust Additive Manufacturing (MKRAM) research project. The seminar had about 30 participants from various private companies.
Norwegian Additive Manufacturing Cluster (www.norwegianam.no). The NGO was set up to coordinate a national network for AM in Norway. In the year since the registration in June 2022, Norwegian AM has been led by Jan Tore Usken, manager of Creator makerspace and educated at Stavanger University. By January 1st 2023 the network had 18 registered member organizations. The membership fee is differentiated according to the number of employees. The initial board members include representatives from Equinor (Petter Grue, Brede Lærum), SINTEF (Klas Boivie), Mechatronics Innovation Lab (Ole-Bjørn Ellingsen Moe), Capnor (Jørgen Grønsund), as well as three others. Norwegian AM has assumed responsibility for arranging an annual conference on AM and plan to provide education and training in AM. It is open for any Norwegian company with an interest in AM, including academic institutions and research organizations. The statutes tasks the cluster with organizing annual AM conferences, with the first being the Norwegian AM Conference 2023.
The Norwegian government is promoting digital manufacturing technologies in centers know as Norwegian catapult centers (NCC). In these locations, companies can experiment with and learn about new technologies before making an investment decision. Three out of the current five NCCs are equipped with AM technologies. These are NCC Manufacturing Technology in Raufoss (Laser Metal Deposition), NCC Future Materials in Grimstad (Plasma Powder Spheroidization) and NCC Ocean Innovation in Bergen (Selective Laser Melting) NCCs. In addition, NCC DigiCat in Ålesund specializes in simulation software and the construction of digital twins – topics that are related to AM. The NCCs are working with companies in AM that are not active in the interest groups mentioned above, such as Tekna and Mechatronics Innovation Lab. The first two NCCs were established in October 2017, and the three others in June 2018. The aim of the program is to have 7-9 such centers in the future.
For comparison, we have also studied how, when and why other Nordic AM organizations were established. This section focuses on the organizations that has relevance to Norway as participants in the Nordic AM group.
Finland: Ideascout became interested in metal 3D-printing in 2012 and set up their first seminar on AM in Tampere that year. In 2016 they founded their daughter company 3DStep and the first Nordic metal printing conference was held at the Tampere Hall conference venue in the fall of 2016. A study by Etteplan in 2019 found that Finland was underutilizing AM and that an organization was needed to facilitate progress in AM adoption. In 2020, Etteplan and 3DStep became two of the founders of the Finish Additive Manufacturer Ecosystem (FAME). The FAME manager reports that Wärtsilä Finland is the main driving force behind the network, for instance by inviting other companies to their premises to learn about AM. The network has 16 companies and organizations listed as "strategic core partners" and 11 "active supportive member companies".
Sweden: The Swedish national AM network started in August 2016 and is called the Swedish Arena for Additive Manufacturing of Metals. It is currently led by an employee from Swerim, a research institute within mining, process metallurgy and manufacturing engineering. It lists 33 members, 14 of whom are universities or research organizations. One of the research organizations, RISE, manages their own AM network, called the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing. The purpose of this is to conduct research and development projects. The application center has 17 partners, most of which are not part of the Swedish Arena network. Since 2022, the arena has organized a PhD network that by 2023 includes 46 PhD-students and post-docs. There are plans to invite other Nordic PhD-students to join this network.
AMEXI was established on December 1st 2017 on the initiative of Swedish banker Marcus Wallenberg. The stated mission of AMEXI is to "act as a resource for its shareholders to accelerate their adoption of Additive Manufacturing". The 12 founding shareholders are large Swedish companies, including Electrolux, Husqvarna Group, Saab and Wärtsilä. In addition to function as a 3D-print service company with both polymer and metal printing capabilities, they fund and participate in research projects on topics related to AM.
Denmark: The Danish AM Hub is a private organization with the vision to make Denmark world leading in the application of AM. It was established in November 2017 and is financed by the Danish Industry Foundation (Industriens Fond), an organization aiming to improve the competitiveness of Danish companies.5 Since 2018, the Danish AM Hub has arranged annual conferences named the AM Summit. They also arrange various match making events and activities to inspire companies to adopt 3D-printing technologies.
There are also some international interest groups promoting AM that are open for Norwegian companies and citizens. E.g., the Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association (AMGTA) lists AMEXCI and Danish AM Hub as "participating members". The only Norwegian company on that list is Tekna, a metal powder manufacturer with headquarter in Sherbrooke, Canada, that was acquired by Arendals Fossekompani in 2014. Another notable organization is Women in 3D-printing that has chapters in Helsinki (Finland), Stockholm and Götenburg (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark) – but none in Norway.
Singapore: The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) oversees the government's strategic investments in the AM space and collaborates closely with the Singapore Economic Development Board in attracting and promoting AM related companies. It has a strong link to the education sector. Since its establishment in 2015, NAMIC was organized under the technology transfer office (TTO) of Nanyang University, before it was relocated to the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (ASTAR) in 2022. Current and past CEOs of the TTO still serve on the board, one as chairman.
Eight research centers, referred to as AM hubs, have received grants from NAMIC to purchase AM equipment. The hubs differ in specialization, but all are involved in education and training of young researchers and collaboration with private companies in co-funded innovation projects. NAMIC has no paying members. Instead, all funding for its own activities is provided by ASTAR and the National Research Foundation. Hub coordinators attend weekly progress meetings with NAMIC, and there are clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the hubs' performance in both education and value creation.
The Nordic countries have economies that are characterized by a highly skilled and educated workforce, with a high digital competency. Relatively high income taxes and high wages (especially in Norway) are a disadvantage for labor intensive manufacturing. The countries are sparsely populated with several small and medium sized manufacturing enterprises in remote locations. In combination, these factors make AM seem well suited for local manufacturing firms.
Despite the commonalities, the evolutionary path of AM interest groups in Norway appears to differ from those in the other Nordic countries. The MMO digitalization roadmap from early 2018 and the establishment of the Norwegian Catapult Centers in 2017-2018 coincided in time with a push in the other Nordic countries to put AM on their national agenda. While Denmark, Finland and Sweden, had success with the establishment of Danish AM Hub, FAME, Swedish Arena for Additive Manufacturing of Metals and AMEXCI, the first industry led AM interest group in Norway was the internationally oriented Energy AM Network. This forum attracted representatives from mainly large Norwegian companies seeking to learn from success stories of the foreign members, while the Norwegian companies with the most extensive experience in AM (e.g. Tronrud Engineering, Norsk Titanium and Tekna) are not taking part. Their explanation given in conversations is that they prefer to focus on core activities.
In Norway, the industrialization of AM appears to have been less coordinated, compared to the other Nordic countries, with companies such as TechnipFMC, Sandvik Teeness, Norsk Titanium and Kongsberg Ferrotech developing AM capabilities on their own terms. It's primarily Equinor that has shown a desire to support AM capabilities in other companies, in an effort to develop a new AM supply chain for spare parts. This push has been supported by DNV who have an interest in expanding the market for AM certification and testing. Neither Equinor nor DNV have ambitions of mastering AM themselves. This contrasts with the economic powerhouses behind FAME and AMEXI.
The industrialization of AM in Norway is also geographically fragmented, typically linked to key manufacturing hotspots, such as Kongsberg and Raufoss. The Norwegian catapult centers are tailored to this structure and aim to meet local or regional needs to experiment with advanced manufacturing technologies. This can help in lowering barriers for local SMEs to get involved. But it also means that not every NCC has AM equipment in their portfolio, and a single NCC can only invest in a limited number of AM technologies. This means that although the catapult centers stem from a national program, the implementation does not translate into a national intervention to learn the pros and cons of various AM alternatives. This perceived lack of government involvement, is a reappearing element in the stories behind AM interest groups in the other Nordic countries. In particular for the Danish AM Hub, AMEXCI, and Swedish Arena for Additive Manufacturing of Metals.
Norway has not seen the form of academic collaboration on AM as seen in Sweden with their Arena group. Currently, research on metal AM is pursued most actively by SINTEF, the Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University of Stavanger, while applications in the health sector is driven by the university hospitals.
Part of the explanation for why we don’t observe more academic collaboration lies in the governance model of SINTEF that is made up of six research institutes, with AM related research in three cities (Trondheim, Oslo and Gjøvik). This means that a considerable part of the national collaboration on research on AM is already happening within SINTEF. Still, the way that these tree research organizations contribute to the industrialization of AM has likeness to Finland and Sweden. In contrast, the Danish AM Hub has made substantial investments in AM technologies and so they're less reliant on the AM infrastructure at the research organizations. In this regard, the hub operates almost like a Norwegian catapult centre.
The Singaporean approach to establishing an AM cluster would require that the central government sees strategic importance in mastering AM at the national level. Some arguments in favor of that are i) the need for robust supply chains in a country with long distances and harsh weather conditions, ii) promoting circular business models or 3) an aim to reshore manufacturing jobs. But as illustrated in figure 1, manufacturing constitutes a much smaller share of GDP in Norway than in Singapore.6 The relative importance of manufacturing jobs is much higher in the few regions with industrial clusters than for the country as a whole. This statistic also suggests that one likely explanation for the slow uptake of AM in Norway is simply the lack of a large manufacturing base.
The mapping of Nordic AM interest groups and networks revealed that all the countries now have viable and thriving organizations working to promote the industrialization of AM. The organizations are referred to as "hub", "cluster", "ecosystem", "network" or "arena", but all have similar objectives of knowledge sharing and building trust in the new manufacturing technologies. One important difference between the organizations is their relative emphasis on industrial application vs research. But in most AM interest groups, collaboration between academia and private firms is both a part of their background and an explicit goal for their activities.
The AM scene in Norway is still in its early stages, with several network initiatives existing side by side. While some participants can be found in multiple different groups, there are other companies with AM experience who don't participate in any. In order to arrive at a national cross industry interest group for AM in Norway, it will be important to understand the motives and incentives for companies that chose not to enlist with current initiatives.
It is likely that important lessons can be learnt from the establishment of FAME in Finland that are relevant to the Norwegian context, since they have managed to include a high number of heterogeneous participants within the same organization. Future research would to well to document what benefits participants gain from participating in the various groups. The mapping study presented above can also be expanded to include more countries, since the transition to AM and local on-demand manufacturing is taking place on a global scale.
The long-term consequences for countries of being a first mover through active industrial policies, versus the Nordic lassez faire approach of leaving the formation of pro AM organizations to the market remains to be seen. Future comparative evaluations of the socio-economic outcomes from centralized efforts to promote AM in countries such as Singapore and the UAE will be important to better understand the interaction between public regulators and private companies in the green and digital transition.
The fact that every Nordic country has seen the need for at least one AM interest group suggests that these groups offer some benefits that member companies can't achieve by themselves. The groups can also be thought of as additional channels for change agents to exert influence and obtain their objectives. E.g. efforts over a number of years by a few individuals at Equinor, DNV, SINTEF and the University of Stavanger have been crucial to arrive at a national Norwegian AM cluster. It seems to be a promising venue for future research to integrate the interorganizational dynamics of interest groups in models for technology adoption, e.g. the technology acceptance model (TAM; Davis 1989), transition theory, e.g. multi-level perspective (MLP; Geels 2010) and value chain models, e.g. global production networks (GPN; Yeung and Coe 2015).
The manuscript was improved thanks to helpful suggestions from two anonymous reviewers. All remaining shortcomings are those of the author alone. The author is grateful for the contribution from all interviewees, and research assistance from Gunnar M. Lamvik. The work was funded by the Norwegian Research Council, grant nr: 332374.
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List of online sources
Norwegian AM Conference
The Nordic AM Group
The Nordic AM Group
Agenda for the 2019 meeting
The Nordic AM Group
Forum for Machining and AM
Online notice, Norsk Industri
Alfred Nobel Science Park
Finish Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem
Swedish Arena for Additive Manufacturing
MMO JIP Digitalisering
Roadmap for digitalization
AM Energy Network
Agenda for first meeting
Women in 3D-printing