3-D printing may sound impossible, futuristic, and confusing but new technology has made this mind-blowing idea a reality. The thought of producing a three-dimensional object from a printer is hard for many people to comprehend. A printer has always been known to produce a two-dimensional document in ink from a computer. Recent technological developments have changed this “printer” concept. Printing is no longer simply in relation to paper.
3-D printing is a process where a solid object of any shape from a digital model is made three dimensional. This goes beyond the familiar home printer we all own. The printing of research papers, photos, directions, and recipes is no longer all that we can do. This engineered process has been made successful through adding layers of materials down in different shapes. This additive process is different from typical machining techniques as they cut or get rid of materials, using a subtractive process. 3D printing is being used to create models and differently shaped objects. The term printer may not be as suitable as saying machine or production. These “printers” are more like a machine in that they produce an object using different types of materials.
This printing technology is being used for prototyping and distributed manufacturing for areas like architecture, automotive, aerospace, jewelry, footwear and fashion among many others. There are many pros and cons associated with this.
Pros: Although the printer costs more up front (a few thousand dollars), in the end costs are even cheaper than labor that can be found internationally. Also, usage home printers will continue to decrease, since there are so many more manufacturing options and increased speeds associated with these 3D machines. Lastly, products can more quickly go from a design to an actual prototype.
Cons: Manufacturing jobs will decrease, which would have a large impact to global economies; particularly in third world countries. Dangerous items could be easily produced and sold illegally. Also, the production of copyright products to create counterfeit items will become more common and too difficult to keep track of.
With marketing tactics becoming more and more centralized on the internet, printing and distribution seems to be taking a back seat. With this new technology slowly becoming a reality for not only the manufacturing world, but also for the home, marketers may need to take a look at how this can affect the market. Being able to produce a three dimensional object to be marketed to consumers will change the industry. The capabilities to produce an object in three dimensional form changes how businesses will advertise and market their company.
Companies like Volvo and Coca-Cola have taken advantage of this technology in their marketing tools by twisting this with creativity. Coca-Cola wanted to introduce their Mini Bottles in Israel and created a fun competition to do so. They invited consumers to create a digital version of themselves, for which they had to take care. A select few were then selected to win a trip to the Coca-Cola factory and were able to turn their mini-mes into the real via 3D printing.
Volvo has also recently taken advantage of 3D printing. “The Polo Principle” campaign allows consumers to take control and design their own versions of The Polo model. Forty of the most creative versions were selected and printed in 3D to be showcased. The winner was actually turned into a real life car!
All of this may seem outrageous and far from a perfect execution, but we are not a long ways off from our own home 3D printers. By turning the consumer into a designer, creator and engineer, 3D printing will not only change the marketing industry but also enter us into a post-industrial manufacturing age.