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Case Forum. Etnia: Time to Bet on 3-D Printing?

Case Method - 27-03-2017

"In this business, you never stop worrying -- sometimes about your working capital and sometimes about your lost sales. Sometimes you're the bug; sometimes you're the windshield."

So says David Pellicer, founder of Etnia Barcelona, which specializes in exclusive eyewear highly valued for original, colorful designs that play off the fashionable image of the company's home base. Since starting up in 2001, the company has seen its revenues grow in excess of 30 percent a year. Sales for 2016 were projected to be over a million units, amounting to 72 million euros.

Etnia's catalog can feature 100 different models at any given time. Every three months, the company launches a new collection of 20 to 30 different models in nine combinations of colors or shapes, and discontinues a similar number.

For more than 25 years, Joan Jané has worked at Hewlett-Packard in the area of supply chain logistics. He approached Pellicer about HP's latest product -- a new 3-D printer with Multi Jet Fusion technology. According to Jané, 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, could transform Etnia's supply chain, reducing costs and improving working capital through streamlined logistics and optimized inventory. What's more, it would enable short runs, production more in line with demand, and product customization, including unrestricted geometric shapes.

Given all these considerations, what should Pellicer do? Should he halt his production plans, for which he had already made investments, and bet on 3-D printing instead? Or should he stick to his original plan and wait to see how the future of additive manufacturing unfolds? But how long should he wait? If additive manufacturing turns out to be as disruptive as Jané and others predict, might Pellicer be missing his chance?

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