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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Sustainable value and co-creation in Distributed Manufacturing

Mass manufacturing’s global value chain contributes to the rapid extraction of raw materials, emissions released through transportation of goods, and waste generation through quick disposal of standardised products. Although there are many initiatives to rectify the sustainability issues with mass manufacturing, many solutions target the production and consumption process separately overlooking the interrelatedness of the entire manufacturing value chain. Distributed manufacturing (DM) is an emergent process that claims to remedy the unsustainable practices of mass manufacturing through a systems approach.  DM is broadly defined a network of production facilities, which use advanced manufacturing technologies to facilitate localised and personalised production. One differentiating characteristic of DM is co-creation, which is the joint participation of the end-user and other stakeholders in the manufacturing process to create a good.  Although co-creation is central to DM, the value exchanges between stakeholders and its contribution to achieving the proposed sustainability opportunities of DM has yet to be analysed in practice. The goal of this research is to assess the impact of co-creation in generating sustainable value by assessing the value creation activities of stakeholders in DM case studies.

In this study, a framework was created to analyse three companies’ co-creation structures with data collected from online resources and semi-structured interviews of the companies’ leaders. The findings of the study suggest that although participation of multiple stakeholders in the manufacturing process can create chances for value trade-offs, co-creation provides benefits to firms by creating direct feedback loops and managing stakeholder expectations to make product improvements and support the cohesion of the network. Additionally, the sustainability benefits tied to the manufacturing process can only be achieved through co-creation since each stakeholder has a role that is required to deliver the final product to the end-user. Finally, the environment is a necessary stakeholder to include in the co-creation process to ensure that environmental impact of DM practices is evaluated. This study demonstrates that by creating a closer alignment between producers and consumers, DM contributes to achieving sustainable production.  Further research includes interviewing end-users to determine importance of product personalisation and impact of co-creation on achieving sustainable consumption practices. Recommendations are made to existing firms that implement DM systems and this research provides insights on how to organize co-creation to enhance sustainable value for companies looking to pursue DM.

Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.