Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article from Insight-Driven Retailing Blog.
Getting to affordable same-day or next-day delivery will be an important milestone for the retail industry, and we're already making progress in that direction with "shipping clubs" and local delivery services. But what if there were a way to skip the delivery process altogether, much like what we've done with digital content? I don't order music CDs or DVDs from websites anymore; I simply download the content.
3D printing has the potential to change the way we manufacture and deliver physical products. The use of the word "printer" implies ink and paper, but 3D printers use drops of different materials to create objects one layer at a time. Traditional manufacturing converts a block of material into a product by carving the shape. 3D printing, however, is additive. Instead of removing excess material in a particular shape, it builds the product by spitting out material in layers.
A leading company in this field is Geomagic, which was recently acquired by 3D Systems. Its founder, Ping Fu, recently spoke at SXSW while wearing shoes designed by Janne Kyttanen that were created by a 3D printer. (As you can see in the picture, these shoes include an iPhone holster as well.)
At the event held on Mar. 12, examples of wearable technology were on display, including, according to a statement, "amazing clothes: face masks that are a perfect fit using 3D scanning, 3D printed shoes, clothes that display carefully designed lighting as art and 'print' words from Twitter and other sources interactively on the fabric."
In the not too distant future, 3D printers could be commonplace in households. Prices are projected to drop to under $1,500 this year and possibly as low as $500 in three years. I can imagine a new category of commerce where products are selected online and printed either in the home or a nearby store. These products can be easily personalized, have almost no supply chain overhead, and can be delivered quickly.
But that brings up some interesting issues as well. Can the product be returned? Can products be easily pirated? If a product is found to be defective, does the fault lie with the designer, seller, or printer?
On-demand commerce could soon escape the digital world and infiltrate the physical world. Which retailers will be ready?
Does 3D printing appear to be more of a threat or an opportunity for retailers?