Five ways 3D printing will impact B2C brands
Jo Macdermott examines five ways that 3D printing will affect how consumer-facing brands go to market.
It looks as if we are on the brink of a major technological revolution of which many of us aren’t even aware. This revolution is likely to change the way we do business, brand our products and buy and consume goods in a dramatic and overwhelming manner. I’m talking, of course, about 3D printing.
For the uninitiated, 3D printing is a process where a physical object can be made from a three-dimensional digital model on a specially designed machine. This is done by laying down layer after layer of material (at the moment, usually plastic or resin but the options are increasing).
3D printing has been much talked about but so far has remained firmly planted in the niche ‘geek’ and prototype manufacturing categories. This looks set to change with new 3D printing technology making waves in the manufacturing industry, and bringing 3D printers within the reach of regular consumers and even children.
Predictions are that 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and not only that, it is expected to revolutionise the way that products are manufactured and consumed in the future. According to BRW magazine, affordable 3D printers are tipped to be the top gift for kids at Christmas 2015, potentially giving consumers the ability to manufacture their own goods, to their own specifications, at home.
3D printers still have a way to go before they are affordable and easy enough for children to use but work is in progress with a number of start-up companies emerging to take advantage of the predicted boom. 3D printing is already starting to be used in the medical, mining and automotive industries with manufacturers and researchers seeing the potential benefits of being able to easily replicate and create parts, which are lightweight and durable.
How will 3D printing affect the way that B2C companies operate?
Any business that produces, distributes or sells a product is likely to be affected by the rise of 3D printing in the future. It is impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but here are five ways that 3D printers are expected to impact B2C businesses:
1. Intellectual property. 3D printers give users the ability to reproduce almost anything in exact detail, which means that copyright, and intellectual property laws will become very difficult to enforce.
2. Customisation. With the ability to make anything quickly and cheaply to exact specifications chances are, to stay competitive, businesses will need to offer tailored products, which are customised, to the individual consumer.
3. Selling platforms not products. If consumers have the ability to make a finished product at home with their choice of materials and without any shipping costs, businesses selling goods may have to switch to selling patterns so that consumers can print the products at home instead of making physical goods and distributing them.
4. Design trumps manufacturing. This is the next logical step from the point above. If anyone can make a product at home, the design will take over from the physical product, when businesses are branding their products.
5. A staple of the factory floor? Although in manufacturing, 3D printers are generally used for prototyping rather than for general manufacture, as machines get cheaper and faster, and as consumer demand for 3D printed products increases it is likely that 3D printers will start to play a more significant part in the overall process.
With the ability to control the manufacturing process with a precision that other technology can’t even come close to, chances are that as 3D printing becomes more widespread we will see innovative new products which are highly competitive and have capabilities we can only imagine now.
If, and when, 3D printing becomes mainstream, companies who are trying to market themselves in the B2C arena will have to compete not only with each other but also with 3D printing shops and home machines. If you are in the B2C arena, or have clients who are in the consumer goods industry it is well worth considering how this shift in business model could affect your marketing in the future.