This case presents an instance of the challenges faced by a firm that has adopted a rapidly evolving technology that is novel, yet non-proprietary. The case focuses on a small, pioneering firm (Imaginarium) in a developing country (India) which has evolved using 3D printing technology extensively. The case views Imaginarium in three phases. Imaginarium 1.0, the first phase relates to the period when jewelry prototyping services was the primary offering of the company; Imaginarium 2.0 refers to the current phase of the firm in which the firm has diversified its offerings and clients from jewelry to industrial prototyping and even small-batch manufacturing in various, often unrelated, verticals. In this phase, Imaginarium has also been involved in advising its clients in the design and development of their parts towards adopting 3D printing. Imaginarium 3.0 represents the next phase that needs to be decided.
The case takes the perspective of Ankit Mehta, the promoter of Imaginarium. Mehta has various options: (a) sell-off the firm, (b) maintain status quo and grow along some more verticals with the same level of client engagement, and (c) grow more capabilities towards becoming an integrated service bureau. The case dwells on (1) What are the opportunities and benefits that 3D printing technology has brought forward? (2) How do firms that have evolved around 3D printing remain sustainable? (3) How do firms that have probably not adopted 3D printing but are now part of the 3D printing ecosystem, remain sustainable?
While the case is based around a firm’s investment in 3D printing in the early phase and then traces the growth of the firm, the key learnings stem from understanding in what way the firm grew its competencies, and extending the thought that 3D printing is a non-proprietary process technological innovation with a significant information processing component. Such a technological innovation can at best provide temporary competitive advantage which may not be sustainable without the firm growing its competencies in a sequential manner, possibly horizontally in select verticals. As it develops and grows capabilities, the firm needs to be aware that it may be treading into the activities that were traditionally being done by its partners whom the firm was possibly dependent on for revenues. These learning objectives can be summarized as: