Consumer 3D Printing; Manufacturing’s Big Bang?

Richardglobalheader (4)
As many of you know, I am fascinated by the prospect of in home 3D printing and what it could mean for the toy industry.  No longer would you have to make an action figure in China, put it on a container ship, ship it to the US, transship it to a warehouse, ship it again to a retail outlet and hope a consumer finds and buys it.  Instead, you would be able to sell a download right to a consumer who would in turn print it out in the comfort of his or her own bed or living room.  It would be our industry’s version of the iPod or Netflix.

How does a 3-D printer work?  The printer sprays liquid plastic out of an ink jet type device.  By doing so, it builds up a 3 dimensional object by adding layers that in turn dry.  Use a program to tell the printer what to make and you can make anything from a toy car to a cork screw. If you want to see the potential, visit Thingiverse where you will find thousands of downloads that are available right now.

If you find this subject interesting and are wondering about 3 D Printing’s imminence as well as what complexities might arise from its arrival, you may want to read a great article:  “Disruptions: the 3-D Printing Free for All.” 

For starters, the author, Nick Bilton, thinks its arrival on the scene is going to be sooner than many expect.  Here is how he puts it:

It won’t be long before people have a 3-D printer sitting at home alongside its old inkjet counterpart. These 3-D printers, some already costing less than a computer did in 1999, can print objects by spraying layers of plastic, metal or ceramics into shapes. People can download plans for an object, hit print, and a few minutes later have it in their hands.

He goes on to quote a research paper created by the Institute for the Future entitled “The Future of Open Fabrication.” “It states that 3-D printing will be “manufacturing’s Big Bang.” as jobs in manufacturing, many overseas, and jobs shipping products around the globe are replaced by companies setting up 3-D fabrication labs in stores to print objects rather than ship them.”

How realistic is this view?  If the price for in home 3-D printers continues to drop (they are now under $900) and the quality continues to improve it could indeed be a game changer.  The implications are huge in terms of jobs, where those jobs are located, the enhanced power of the designer and more.  Of particular interest to me are the legal implications.  Can you copy someone else’s product?  That in my next posting.

2 thoughts

  1. I am pretty skeptical about this being a real revolution in toy manufacturing or any other kind of business.
    What about decoration, assembly, presence of some electronics in the item? What if you have even a simple mechanism in the toy? E.g. a launching mechanism that needs a steel spring?
    How can you guarantee the meeting of safety and quality standards?

  2. This is deeply fascinating.
    I just completed a research paper on this, and was thinking the same thing, but from the standpoint of video game design. Designers could very well provide models in their games that could send objects, figures, etc to a 3d print directly from within a game someday. Talk about pulling something from another world.
    Not only could we see a big bang from the toy industry, but others as well. We could see objects being reproduced (from 3D scans of the orginals) of toys, objects, etc that have long since stopped being reproduced. I completely concur that we on the verge of the next biggest breakthrough for consumers since the Internet.

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