If the media is to be believed, 3D Printing has already staked its claim on our highstreets and in our malls. 3D Printed shoes that fit you as effortlessly as a glass slipper, bio-algorithmically designed jewellery and a literal infinite selection of the ubiquitous 3D printed iPhone case. In reality, these complex and unique products, and the 3D printed consumer product “revolution” at large, remain confined to the niche, boutique corners of the internet.
From the laymen consumer to the brand executive, it was perceived as inevitable that 3D Printing technology would be a significant driver for the influx of new consumer product designs, functions, applications and service opportunities into the market. Two components, however, critical to the realisation of this digital/physical consumer market model failed to deliver.
Firstly, the promise of 3D Printing, particularly that of home 3D Printing which is extremely limited in materials, platforms and scalability, failed to withstand the expectations of the consumer – often leading to disappointment. This public disillusionment of 3D Printing’s capability, wrongly measured by the performance of consumer 3D Printers, has been a major brake on the concept of mass adoption of 3D Printing in homes and malls.
The second brake to adoption has not been a technology issue, but a design one. A main driver for the adoption of 3D printing in industries such as aerospace and medical is the ability to create highly complex geometries. This design freedom has been leveraged by designers and artists in recent years to create some extreme new aesthetic styles. The fruit of these artistic endeavours tend to be products with a highly niche stylistic attraction; while most consumers appreciate their beauty, few seem willing to buy into these designs.
These barriers, however, are now being overcome tech-savvy brands and retailers who have taken a deeper analytical perspective on the drivers and realities of 3D printing and how it can add value to their brand, product portfolios and service offering.
To overcome the technical issues, we are increasingly seeing brands looking at high-end machines to support their consumer offering. In recent years, we have seen a lot of activity in the consumer space focussed on low-end printers such as desktop Fused Deposition Modelling; however, these printers represent only a very small segment of 3D Printing technology. Smart consumer brands are now looking at the larger technology spectrum to identify whether there is an economical, scalable and aesthetically suitable method of 3D Printing products that can be customised to the needs and wants of the consumer thanks to digital nature of the 3D printing workflow. Products such as dolls and gaming merchandise that are customised to the consumer’s designs using online platforms are manufactured with high end 3D printers and then shipped to the customer.
To overcome the design barriers, brands are increasing looking at how they can truly exploit the design freedoms offered by 3D Printing, beyond gimmicky “organic” designs. Consumers love a brand, and brands looking to leverage 3D printing to add new value to their businesses cannot forsake their core design identity when considering how 3D printing can further transform their style within the confines of what is recognisably their brand. A major UK retailer recently launched a 3D Printed jewellery range that seamlessly fit into their existing lines but stood out sufficiently to grab consumer (and media) attention.
By tackling these challenges head on, innovative brands are exploiting the benefits 3D Printing offers to their product and service value by enabling:
- New consumer Point of Sale (POS) experiences
- Higher value proposition of products
- Integration of consumer data into customised products
- New value chains that merge retail, marketing and manufacturing