Imagine getting into a shoe store in the future. You want a pair of running shoes that fit your taste and your style to a T. To do that the store attendant scans your foot. To be specific, she is creating a thorough 3D scan of your lower extremities. In a minute or two, the scan is done. Then the attendant using a tablet lets you choose a shoe style.
Further, she factors in the details you want to be included in the design. When everything’s done, you wait around 30 minutes. After such time, the attendant gets back to you, bringing along a package that upon opening shows the exact shoe you want. Welcome to the world of 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing earns its moniker as the process “adds material” to create an object. It’s known popularly as 3D printing. The 3D printer forms exact geometric shapes by depositing layer upon layer of solid material. Many experts consider it the future of manufacturing.
But is it really? What are the industries that can benefit from 3D manufacturing most? Will mass manufacturing be obsolete? Additive marketing can indeed change the market, but in what ways has it already changed how people create their products?
Making the Shoe Fit
Shoes on sale have different sizes that could accommodate almost everyone of any size and shape. But it rarely happens that we have one size that suits us. Why? As capable as the best shoe designer to arrive at a shoe design that best fits a pair of human feet, his efforts may fail miserably to cater to each individual who will buy the design. Each person has a unique feet structure, as unique as our faces. So to design a one-shoe-fit-all product offering may have its pluses. But if we talk about catering to a person’s needs, having a custom-made shoe trumps it all.
This is the idea behind NIKEiD, Nike’s online offering that lets customers customize their shoes. For a fee of $170, you can log in and design your way to a pair of basketball shoes.
But 3D printing or additive manufacturing does it best, far better than what Nike is offering. How? Current technology used by NIKEiD allows you to choose the aesthetics of the shoe. But with 3D printing, you will get the shoe that fits your feet perfectly.
Customization 3D printing trumps the traditional manufacturing process in other industries too. Many industries today which require intensive customization have benefited from 3D printing, especially the medical industry. For instance, many dentists are using 3D printing to make sure that dentures, braces, and other dental appliances will fit their customers. By using 3D dental modeling software, they can produce implants and prosthesis that fits their clients. Best of all, the processing is swift. A client could get his dental piece within the day, instead of days or weeks. It’s a win-win scenario, a set-up much exploited by aerospace and fashion these days.
Will It Replace Traditional Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing changes the marketing model. Production in 3D printing is on-demand. A client finalizes the design (by being scanned) first before production is set. In manufacturing, products are made first, then the customer decides.
The traditional manufacturing process employs market forecasting and rigorous processes to forecast orders. But even with all that, about 30% of manufactured products aren’t bought. Instead, these end up as waste.
That’s because not every product manufactured fits the desires of a buyer. This is why marketing has to be a potent force, producing demand. In this area, one product comes to mind: Apple iPhones.
But if you’re to postulate that 3D printing would take out traditional manufacturing altogether, it may be a long shot. And the reason for that is the cost. Personalized 3D printed products will cost the same no matter the design. Meaning a pair of shoes meant for a tall guy would cost the same as a pair for a shorter one.
That won’t work in mass production. As 3D printing doesn’t have a price drop as steep as mass production, you won’t be able to adjust your prices as you manufacture thousands of a particular model.
On the other hand, you can actually choose to drop prices with traditional manufacturing when the volume is high. In short, in the economies of scale, 3D printing can hardly catch up.
But despite all that, 3D printing or additive manufacturing is definitely here to stay. It’s a given. When people want their shoe to fit their wildest desires, 3D printing is simply priceless.