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Public and private goods in the development of additive manufacturing capacity

  • Steven Samford, Peter Warrian and Elena Goracinova

The promotion of additive manufacturing (AM) as a set of enabling technologies has been a prominent feature of new policies seeking to revitalize manufacturing in developed economies. Because of its differences from traditional manufacturing technologies, small businesses, in particular, face high costs in adopting AM methods. How can governments assist small firms and their innovation ecosystems to make significant leaps in enabling technologies? This paper conceptualizes the challenges faced by groups of small enterprises adopting new technologies and a decentralized policy effort to systematically increase the use of advanced manufacturing technologies. In Canada, funding used by community colleges to create applied research centers has been intended to establish anchors for local “industrial commons” around advanced manufacturing methods. By providing both information and working capital to private sector partners, these community college programs should ideally mitigate challenges to the adoption of AM technologies—the so-called “valley of death”—in local ecosystems. There are many successful individual cases of partnership (i.e., private goods); however, this bottom-up approach seems to fail both as a means of promoting vibrant industrial commons (i.e., public goods) and as a coherent national strategy. We trace the challenges of this approach to principal-agent problems associated with layering new programs upon existing organizations, the density of program participants, and the presence of appropriate technologies.

Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Steven Samford, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7 Canada, e-mail:
Peter Warrian, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7 Canada, e-mail:
Elena Goracinova, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, e-mail:
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Acknowledgements: We are grateful to David Wolfe, Dan Breznitz, and Robert Luke for helpful comments on the project, to participants in the Innovation Policy Lab working group at the University of Toronto, and to the interview subjects for their willingness to take part in the study. Financial support for this research was provided by SSHRC Partnership Grant No. 895-2013-1008.

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