Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis




Jason Harkins

Committee Members

Clint Relyea, Renee Kelly, Gene Felice, François Amar

Graduation Year

August 2016

Publication Date

Spring 2022


3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is an emerging field that has yet to find its place in society. Research and development in the 3D printing industry spans a vast range of technologies, materials, and applications. Many say that it is still in search of its “killer app,” a tool or capability that will lead to mass popularity the way the internet and personal computers played an essential role in the exponential growth of the computer industry (Kurman & Lipson, 2013; Misek, 2013). New entrepreneurs and established business executives involved with the 3D printing industry are scanning the field for areas this technology can benefit. In search of key market targeting and positioning these executives must ensure that their businesses remain financially sustainable. Some companies are looking to reduce the environmental impact of 3D printing by creating 3D printing materials made from recycled plastics or that have biodegradable properties, or minimize the impact on the environment in other ways. For some companies this is a key piece of their business model. The commonly used definition for eco-sustainability is, “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Drexhage & Murphy, 2010). The literature review reveals common themes around the sustainability and the 3D printing industry. This research brings up several questions: How do executives sustain their 3D printing businesses in this emerging and volatile industry? What are the trade-offs in pursuing a sustainability-focused business strategy vs. a more traditional business model? Where does social and environmental sustainability fit into the 3D printing industry and how does it influence other businesses? These questions have driven the research in this paper. 3D printing startups and end-users were interviewed to explore to what extent sustainability is a priority and which types of sustainability are manifested within their businesses.