3D printing is the next step in empowering consumers to create extremely custom-tailored products, exactly how they envisioned. Falling costs of 3D printing technology and the expiration of major patents, propelled 3D printing as a viable option for creating products. The technology uses a mixture of hot plastic that instantly cools to vertically print the product from a 3D design file. 3D printing takes an idea in your head and brings to reality in a matter of days.
Wonders of 3D Printing
3D printing has a wide variety of applications, most notably in the medical arena. The technology has been used to successfully print and replace 75% of a broken skull. Playing to technology’s strength, the doctors designed the object to very specific requirements of the individual head through 3D computer modeling. As a result the piece was able to fit in perfectly.Personally, I am excited to see how far the medical field takes this 3D printing technology. The possibility of printing organs and body parts will easily open up a wave of funding towards the research.
Similarly in another medical case, bio-engineers have been able to design and print an ear!
Leveraging customization, 3D printing does wonders for creative people who now have the ability to design and produce various kinds of jewelry. If the product sells, you can always print more. If it fails, it failed fast and cheap. There is no inventory space, and you can print on demand. We are already seeing intricate printed jewelry popping out for sale on the internet. But 3D printing isn’t just for small artists, New Balance and Nike are already entering the space with a brilliant campaign where they design a perfect shoe. Based on the performance of an individual and their running style, New Balance is able to build a shoe specific to the person. Recently, NB’s perfect shoe was successfully used in a race by an athlete.
3D printing is not without limitations. The overall process is a lot slower than mass production, due to heavy emphasis on customization. Red flags start to go off, when in addition to shoes and jewelry people start to print functional guns and gun clips.
Other problems that 3D printing will have to face deal with copyright violations and patents. Who is the owner of the design? If somebody prints and sells a figurine of Darth Vader should they pay any royalties?
3D printing plays exceptionally well with consumers on the internet who are used to speed, customization and free information. As 3D printing technology continues to improve, it will become cheaper and thus accessible to more people. Some will use it for good and some will contribute to grey areas, forcing the people in charge to think real hard about how to regulate the new technology. For retailers, the 3D printing technology is a double edged sword: On one hand it’s a threat since more people will be able to print smaller items and not go to the store while on the other it’s an opportunity to offer a customizable product, like New Balance did.