17 October 2019 | Denis Baranov
How 3D Printers Reshape Retail Business
In recent years, compact 3D printers have appeared on the market that are accessible to users with minimal technical knowledge. At first, people used them mainly for printing toys, they weren't overly popular, sales were slow and they disappeared from the shelves. However, thanks to recent breakthroughs, 3D printers are now being used in innovative new ways for a variety of surprising purposes. Nowadays the volume of the global market for 3D products is around $4 billion, but according to McKinsey this could increase to up to $550 billion by 2025.
How Retailers Pierced the Shell of the Unknown
There is every reason to believe that 3D printing will change the retail format forever. Companies will be able to create products on demand, taking into account the needs of specific customers. A revolution could take place on the market: first the warehouses will disappear, then the counters, and with them the queues. When buyers can personally change the characteristics and appearance of the product, stores will turn into experimental, technical workshops. Buyers will no longer have to choose only from what is available and products will be custom-made for individuals. The production cycle from project to finished product will be shorter: companies will be able to quickly create prototypes, test them on the consumer, improve and launch the product in mass production.
The Biggest Breakthrough of Our Times
In 2016, NASA launched a 3D printer capable of printing in a vacuum in space. This means that in the future, astronauts will be able to print everything they need without having to wait for it to be delivered. The engineers of the European Space Agency also recently announced their intention to print a space base on the Moon, using lunar dust as ink.
But there is some kind of fantasy on Earth too. Since 2013, Californian bioengineers have been printing kidneys on a 3D printer and testing drugs for them. In April 2019, for the first time in history, Israeli scientists printed a heart based on the human heart rather than on a synthetic biomaterial. There is a strong possibility that within ten years, human organs will be printed in the best clinics around the world.
The Polish company Glaze Prosthetics is using HP equipment for 3D printing in the production of designer prostheses for hands. Customers are able to choose the shape, style, color of their 3D-printed prosthesis. They can even draw a tattoo on their prosthesis, print it in the form of a suit of Iron Man, or embed custom dynamics into it.
“Missing an arm is nothing shameful,'' Glaze Prosthetics states. “On the contrary, it is an opportunity for self-expression.”
3D Printing & Construction
3D printing technology is also being tested in the construction domain and may be able to help low-income families in developing countries. Engineers plan to sell houses cheaper than cars, and with an increase in production. The price could be reduced even more; one house could cost around $3-4,000.
The volume of industrial waste would be significantly reduced, as well as the amount of energy consumption. Manufacturers will save money on warehouses and logistics, meaning that profitability will increase.
Big Retailers Create a Revolution With Their Branding and Business Approach
The scientific team of Tangible Media Group, working closely with major retail chains and restaurants, developed “flat pasta” made of gelatin and starch using 3D printing, which is “revealed” in water and takes on a volumetric shape. Gelatin naturally expands when water is absorbed, which allows researchers to manipulate food forms. This technology helps to save on food packaging and reduce the need for plastic.
In the spring of 2018, Reebok began selling Liquid Factory sneakers with a sole made of liquid polyurethane that is printed using a 3D printer. Reebok claims that polyurethane restores shape better after stress and compensates energy.
One of Reebok’s competitors, Adidas, is inviting customers to create not only personalized shoes but clothes, too; more precisely, a sweater that fits perfectly In their store in Berlin, the customer can choose their own design and type of binding. Based on the weaving options and the thickness of the threads, the program generates a custom size and prints the sweater while the customer waits. Of course, this service doesn’t come cheap; these sweaters cost about 200 euros. However, these kinds of opportunities for customization and personalization of clothes attract hundreds of customers, which is why Adidas plans to open similar “knitting studios” in more of their European stores.
Nike has recently released Vaporfly Elite Flyprint 3D Printed Sneakers, a new three-dimensional running shoe that is very light and flexible. The material used for manufacturing them was developed in collaboration with Eliud Kipchoge, who ran the world’s fastest marathon wearing the shoes The textiles used as a binder for sneakers are made of the flexible filament of yarn. The material looks like bright laminated wires that unwind and melt together.
Other uses for 3D printing
Last year, IKEA announced the development of personalized Ubik seats created using 3D printers. The seats are developed specifically for gamers, and IKEA teamed up with a Swedish manufacturer of medical prostheses, UNYQ, to make them. The client scans their body shape in the laboratory at UNYQ and, based on his physique, weight, and other parameters, the company makes a three-dimensional model of the chair. The first models of Ubik are predicted to go on sale in 2020.
Nescafe has also used 3D printing technology to release a special kind of alarm clock. An alarm clock with seven different alarm sounds is integrated into the coffee can lid. The top of the cover is bordered by LED lamps that light up in soft red when the mechanism is triggered. To turn off the alarm, you need to unscrew the cover.
Nescafe wants its customers to be immediately woken up with the smell of ground coffee. The alarm clock lid is fully produced on a 3D printer, which not only significantly reduces the cost of production but also attracts customers using revolutionary new technology.
Advice from the experts:
Whether your business is big or small, 3D printing is the future of the retail industry. Here are a few examples of the type of product 3D printing is especially well-suited to:
- Tailor-made products with short development cycles;
- High-value products with an in-house developer
- Products with high complexity
- Low waste production alternative for waste-conscious consumers
The demand for 3D printing technology in business really exists. According to Gartner analysts, by the end of 2019, the pace of deliveries of 3D printers for enterprises will be 64.1%, making this technology increasingly relevant for businesses around the world.