The retail industry is just one of the many reasons why the expectations for 3D printing technology are so high. In this industry, additive manufacturing can change every single step of the supply chain and offers fully customized retail products. There is a large gap between the future of retail and the processes and technology that are currently used. So how can 3D printing companies live up to the “made to measure” idea of the retail industry?
What are the bottlenecks of 3d printing that retailers face today? and what can or will happen tomorrow?
There is a talk of travel without any luggage, and printing all that needs from a hotel room and so on. Is it really possible? Common, when I travel I have an agenda, 3d printing what I need is the last kind of thing I want to worry about. What I mean is there is lots of exaggeration on the expectation with regards to 3D printing. It may be wise to take a cautious approach when it comes to how far consumers will participate or willing to buy the idea. But invariably some will, and that percentage will be very minimal.
Nevertheless, there is some scope for retailers to give an additional choice to consumers by incorporating an option to print 3D and customize. There is also scope to minimize supply chain issues by 3D printing what is needed in a location near to the store or within the store. If that is a scenario, then it will certainly effect production too. As a quick reminder, the supply chain is usually composed of six main steps: the production of the raw material, the supplier, the manufacturer, the distribution, the retailer, and the customer.
3D printing will impact each step in different ways.
- The raw materials would no longer be needed at the beginning of the process but instead at the end.
- The supplier, will no longer be relevant as the product will be made on demand and there will be no need for holding inventory.
- The manufacturer will be replaced by 3D printers.
- The distribution step will be fully dematerialized, as 3D files can just be exchanged online.
- The retailer will still be a key player but will certainly need to incorporate 3D printers into the shop.
- The customer will be more educated about this technology and will need to change the consumption behavior.
These are some scenarios or hypothetical at best as of today. As we it’s always a challenge for the retailer is to meet large volume, hence margin. If 3D printing provides it, well enough… but the question is still on.
To understand how 3D printing is going to revolutionize the retail industry we are going first to see how big retailers are currently implementing it into their strategy, then we’ll see what are the main bottlenecks for the technology to fully change this industry and finally we’ll approach how these main issues might be overcome to create the future of retailing.
To put the above question here the key challenges or opportunity that effects 3D printing today
1. The gap between the performance expected by the customer and the real technology is too large in terms of speed, resolution, autonomous operation, ease of use, reliability and repeatability.
3D printing is explained as the technology that smooths the materialization of your ideas. But when a customer tries to 3D print his project with a personal 3D printer, he realizes that it will take 10 hours to be printed, the layers would be appearing on the final object, differentiating it from a traditional manufactured one, that he will need the help of a 3D Designer to create the 3D file or need some knowledge in CAD software, that he would have to watch the printer in-order to ensure that the printing process goes as planned and that two prints are hardly ever the same. In order to make the retailing process with personal printers real, all these aspects would have to improve.
In the case of an online 3D printing service, the customer would be disappointed by the speed (2 days for the printing and cleaning + shipping) and by the need of an optimized 3D file.
2. The possibility to print a multi-material product without any assembly step.
That is to say incorporating multiple types of materials, including the ability to mix materials while printing a single object. Multi-material printers are starting to get developed but still this way of printing is not yet really spread among the 3D printing services and printers.
3. Finished products.
When a consumer not familiar with the technology thinks about the future of 3D printing they often imagine a machine that produces a product with the push of a button. There is a real expectation for 3D printing in retail to provide the ability to print fully functional and active systems that incorporate many modules, such as embedded sensors, batteries, electronics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and others.
So it is a given all the HYPE around 3D printing is not for real… there is a saying “Never Trust the HYPE”