It has made an entrance into consumers home and the question is what will it bring? 3D printers are not typically a new technology, being first introduced in the 1980s for manufacturers as a fast and cost-effective method for creating prototypes. The 3D products are created by laying down successive layers of material in a printer until the entire object is made. It has become an essential tool for industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical, fine jewelry and construction.
Chuck Hull, the man behind 3D printing gave a spot on prediction when it was first invented, that it would take between 25 to 30 years for it to enter peoples houses. Now its popularity has globally increased and is estimated to become an 8.4 billion industry by 2020. It is entering into the consumer lifestyle at a gradual pace with endless possibilities.
1. Endless Possibilities
“3D printers empowers the user, not just the business owner and investor” according to Apple Rubber, a leading designer and manufacturer.
The opportunities for consumers seem like a never-ending list — from home-printed food (such as ravioli or chocolate) to being able to take a picture of ceramic in a shop and then reconstructing it using the printer. Some sceptics are concerned about the freedom in which this technology brings such as offering the chance for guns to be produced using blueprints from the internet. Although it implies challenges and a few can be considered dangerous, many consider the 3D printer as the next “Industrial Revolution” because of the impact it’s having in the industries and the huge potential it’s displaying for the future of consumer goods.
The big question is how does the future look like for consumers and 3D printing?
If we could have a looking glass to the future and see how it will play out we would guess it would look like this; consumers are increasingly demanding that products cater to their specific needs, wants and tastes. If the customer would be dissatisfied with a product, they would have the capabilities to either alternate it to fit their preferences or even to design and create new products on their own. Yet this opportunity is only possible for those with the technical skills in knowing how to use the CAD software which is required to 3D print on your own. Nowadays, a few schools, especially in North America, are introducing classes to learn how to use this technology. Just a few years ago, high school students in Canada were not satisfied with their cell phone covers and decided to print their own containing pockets with small holes that allowed them to swipe their cafeteria card.
The younger generation is acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to fulfill the potential of this technology. Tomorrow, these students will become a powerful generation named “the entrepreneur manufacturers” and will hold a strong influence in product innovation. These lead user innovators will not only be able to express what they want but they will also be able to build it themselves fast and at home.
The challenges today are crucial to how the future will look like. One of them being the cost of the printers for consumers. The high-end printers are generally for enterprises who can purchase such an expensive product. Yet a new class of printer has emerged that offers high-end capabilities at a lower cost. Gartner predicts that by 2016, 3D printers with the performance demanded by businesses will be available for less than $1,000. Furthermore, printers can only create objects with one material while consumer products require multiple. This casts doubt on the future of the entrepreneur manufacturers in having the capabilities to create superior products and increase innovation in the very next years.
3D printers empower not only the consumer but the entrepreneur to design more innovative products at home, saving time and money so they can compete with larger companies. For instance, an unsatisfied customer with the new Apple iPhone covers can print a similar one with different features. It is bringing a big change and creating a new customer, “the entrepreneur manufacturers.”
As the prices for the technology goes down and the capabilities go up it will create an enormous impact that will force businesses to reshape their processes. In order for brands to reduce the risk of being eaten by this new trend they will need need to listen to customers and understand what they are saying. Social media provides a platform in which people can easily express what they like or dislike. Brand’s role isn’t just to be able to capture this information but also to give an immediate response. The response does not only involve engaging with the customer but also improving the products.
Turning the amount of information available online into valuable insight is crucial for the future relationship between businesses and customers. In order for brands to continue building superior products, the voice of the customer needs to be present in each business division. Having a fast, effective and easy to use tool which outlines what consumers are saying is essential, it becomes even more important if it can be integrated within each department to guarantee the success of the whole enterprise. To cater to each individual preferences, organisations ought to be creative and innovative such as creating an interactive site in which consumers can describe and build products that suit their liking. As Steve Jobs once famously said “a lot of times people don’t know what they want, until you show it to them,” and in order to keep on surprising them with products and services, brands must take advantage of the technology and figure out what people want.
3D printers reveals two paths that businesses can follow in the future.
- They can listen to customers, understand their needs and allow them to build their dream products using proprietary technologies plus 3D printing.
- They don’t do it. As a consequence, customers leave these brands for the first ones or they just design and 3D print what they want at home. Imagine printing your new personalized phone at home, just by downloading the project from the web.