Impact of 3D Printing for Consumers

OVER THE PAST months, I wrote several articles about the impact of 3D printing. In this last article of this series, I am writing about the impact of 3D printing for consumers.

Line at Apple Store for new product introduction

From a consumer’s point of view, 3D printing has two major impacts:

  • Affordable one off production
  • On demand manufacturing

These two aspects can have a major impact on how consumers select and buy products. In this post, I will explore what the consequences can be.

The most obvious one is that consumers get more choice. Out of stock does not have to exist anymore. Products can be produced on demand when there is demand. It is like the on demand printing of books offered by Amazon when the original book is out of print. WIthout the necessity to build a large supply chain or keep stock, the risk for companies and product designers is lower for the introduction of new products. I expect a significant increase in the number of available products. Especially niche products will become commercially viable. Similar to the out-of-print books at Amazon. Extending that metaphor, there is no longer a need to end a product life cycle. Products can be available forever. This goes beyond the products itself, but can extend to spare parts, as well. Or even improvements or extensions to an existing product.

Another one is that products can better fit the needs of their buyers. One off production enables significant options for personalization and customization of products to customer requirements. This will lead to higher product satisfaction with buyers. They no longer have to choose the best of the rest, but they can actually get a product which they have in mind. This will increase the value perception of products by consumers.

It can also lead to better products. By continuous designs updates based on feedback from users, the product can be improved with each production run. It is also possible to adapt products for special use cases where today a one-size-fits-all product is the only option.

In short the impact on consumers can be summarized as:

  • more choice for consumers
  • endless availability of product
  • better product fit to the needs of its users
  • better products

3D printing and one off production will have a significant impact on consumers, and how they select, buy and perceive products. I do not expect that all products or product categories are affected though. Custom jewelry has been around since forever and although it became more affordable to buy personalized jewelry, it still very common to buy off-the-shelf jewelry at the store (and I am not counting engraving here). The change will be gradual and will move from niche and expensive to popular and affordable products.

  • A M Shillito

    Is it the co-designing applications that will drive the consumer take-up of 3D printing? There has been a discussion on one of the 3D Print Linkedin groups around the hype about a 3D printer in every home with the point made that very few consumers actually want to be involved in the design of products. Their interest is consuming! This is a very interesting topic for discussion more broadly as it is central to consumer awareness and engagement with 3D printing, whether through bespoke co-designing applications (ie Makie dolls, UCODO, Nervous Systems, etc), services like Shapeways, i.materialise, Sculpteo, etc, and DIY (MakerBots, RepRaps, Maxits, Ultimators).

    My own interest in this is that I am a designer maker myself with a business developing 3D modelling software for creative people to more easily access 3D printing, whether they are professionals, amateurs, hobbyists and and engaging through any of these routes.

    • Robert Schouwenburg

      Consumers are co-designing today even if they don’t realize it yet. The friction point is the level of effort the consumer wants to spend and the requirements they have for the product.

      Many consumers are not really interested in the designing aspect itself. They outsource that problem to product designers. But they are interested in changing the product to their needs. Think about for instance eye/sun glasses. You like the frame but it is too narrow for your head. With a push of a button the glasses are manufactured in your size. Or you want that vase but in a different material. Consumers do have opinions. Depending on their interest, they are prepared to spend more or less time on it. Just think about how much some people spend on furnishing their homes compared to shopping for something like a trashcan.

      In my opinion we end up in a place where for each product a tailor-made choice is made about the options to customize. I do not think customers will actively participate in the design process except for very limited cases like that special piece of jewelry or unique designed piece of furniture.

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