Our research has led us to the following seven distinct distributed manufacturing archetypes, which are summarised in the table below along with their unique components.

Main Body Factors Traditional DM Emerging DM
Indigenous manufacturing Multi-domestic manufacturing Loosely coupled ecosystem Platform enabled ecosystem Mini factory Portable factory Cloud-additive manufacturing
Ownership Resource sharing/utilization Owner-based Owner-based Joint-based Owner-based Service-based Service-based Owner-based Service-based Service-based Service-based
New value proposition (PSS) Product oriented Product oriented Product oriented Use oriented Product oriented Product oriented Use oriented Product oriented Product oriented
Knowledge Innovation Internal Internal Supply side Peer Supply side Peer Demand side Demand side Supply side Demand side
Collaboration & communication Intra-company collaboration Intra-company collaboration External collaboration External collaboration Virtual supply chains Virtual supply chains Virtual supply chains
Customization Mass customization Mass customisation Bespoke fabrication Bespoke fabrication Mass fabrication Mass fabrication Personal fabrication
Structure Technology competence Control: ICT, ERP, PLC    Integration: Cyber-physical systems, IoT, Cloud    Intelligence: AI, Cloud, Big data    Smart: 3D printing, Block chain
Flexibility Push production Push production Mix Push production Push production Push production Push production
Supply chain integration direction Internal Supplier Supplier Technology system Customer Customer Multi-dimension
Geographic distribution Region-level Country-level Region-level Community-level Neighbor-level On site On site
Physical Process flow/Reverse logistics (Sustainability) As the manufacturing point get closer to the end customer, less logistics/reverse logistics process and distance is required, hence achieve both financial and environmental sustainability
Example Scotland whisky Car factories across globe Supplier groups in Shenzhen, China Open desk Medicine factory at hospital Unilever Nano Factory Hubs

What are the inhibitors of adoption of distributed manufacturing?


  • The existing infrastructure may be incapable of supporting the “right” digital technologies required.
  • Emerging digital tools can be confusing about their functionality and capability.
  • Concerns about privacy and security arise as a result of the large volume of digital data being transformed.
  • Only a few materials can be worked with 3DP equipment or used with lower manufacturing standards.
  • Quality issues may arise as a result of many manufacturing points using diverse equipment and processes.


  • There are only a few DM training programmes available on the market right now.
  • In the current market, there is a scarcity of DM expertise.
  • Changing the existing centralised manufacturing will result in sunk costs and more difficult decision making.
  • Customization or foregoing economies of scale will result in a higher price, which the consumer may not accept.
  • Changes and transformations necessitate an initial investment.
  • An emerging model may compel people to invest and test until they select the ideal fit model.


  • DM requires the collaboration of multiple stakeholders; pioneers may not benefit immediately due to the industry’s slow transition.
  • Future market demand may not always correspond to the current plan and scope.
  • There are no existing policies or regulations in place for DM.
  • Multiple manufacturing points means more consumption? Results barely can be tested accurately.
  • There is no tax reduction or similar compensation to assist SMEs or start-ups.


  • Trust can be a critical issue in service-based relationships.
  • Multiple points are involved in distributed manufacturing, which can possibly complicate the SC structure.
  • Consumers lack the knowledge to be actively involved in design, hence an intermediary will be required.
  • Data holds most of the value in business but in sharing economy, the ownership of the data may lead to conflict of interest.
  • Lower entry barrier means more competitors in the market.

What are the enablers for adopting distributed manufacturing?


  • The smart city concept has been propagated as an enabler of localization, from a city perspective, such that supply and demand are fulfilled within urban boundaries.
  • Consumers today is expecting more personalized product with limited waiting time.


  • Pay per use model can reduce up-front investments on IT and manufacturing infrastructure for SMEs.
  • Participants have to step into the mindset of sharing,  not only with supplier and partner, but even with competitors to create more value.


  • Companies in regions without sufficient communication network coverage will find it difficult to participate in a further connected production.
  • Technologies like big data and block chain enables a more secure and accurate data input for DM.
  • Technologies like cloud, Internet of Things, and digital twin establish a connected manufacturing network for DM.
  • Miniaturized unit processes and manufacturing equipment integration promote manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing and CNC mills.

Stakeholders map for a distributed manufacturing network

Who are the stakeholders?

Operation Process

  • OEMs: OEMs are the major stakeholder in DM as they will distribute the work toward end consumers.
  • Material supplier: Material supplier has to involve in the network to seize the opportunity from the supply network disruption that DM will bring.
  • Local manufacturer: SMEs can play an important role in DM as they are more localised and understand the needs and preference of the region.


  • Designer: As individual user, designer can eventually create more value through open innovation and share knowledge in DM supply network.
  • Consumer: Consumers receive numbers of benefits from DM and play the role of “prosumer”.
  • Machine: Machines and equipment can also participate in DM without requiring too much human interaction due to sophisticated technologies such as IoT.

Service Provider

  • Technology provider: Because DM might incorporate various high-tech components, such as blockchain, which is rarely provided by OEMs, a technology provider will eventually become a DM stakeholder.
  • Platform provider: All above stakeholders will require a place/platform to communicate and collaborate. Some OEMs choose to develop their own platform but majority will still rely on platform providers.
  • Logistics provider: Logistics is the string to connect all the dots in operation.


  • Policy maker: DM is in a relatively immature environment where regulations and policies are not fully in place.
  • Fund provider: DM offers a new business model and opportunities with a lower entry barrier. Funding sources are critical for the growth of SMEs.
  • Academic Institution: On the one hand, the talents needed in the future may differ from those required today, thus academic institutions must plan for such changes ahead of time. On the other hand, DM research should not be halted in order to uncover new possibilities.