3-D printing creates the ‘shelfie’

Jun 25, 2014

While "selfies" made with smartphone cameras have been the rage over the last couple of years, 3-D printing technologies have created the "shelfie" — life-like mini-models of people that often find their way onto mantelpieces.

Encouraged by the long lines created by its first 3-D printing tour before Christmas, Asda is rolling out 3-D scanners at select stores across the United Kingdom.

In just 12 seconds, the booths capture a 3-D image of a person based on thousands of photos taken. The scanner maps every contour, picking up hair and skin color, clothes and even a watch or ring. The detailed digital model is then sent via the web to an Asda facility in Sheffield to be printed in full color ceramic. An eight-inch model of the person arrives within two weeks. Prices start at £60 (U.S. $103).

[Image: Asda Mini Me]

ASDA’s scanning machine differs from conventional 3-D printers, which build the product in plastic, layer by layer, through a nozzle that works with only one color. According to the Daily Mail, Assad’s system creates a model from a box filled with a white powdered ceramic. Jets shoot water or colors at the ceramic, which then solidifies. Airbrushing then removes the fine white powder to reveal the model, which is created in all the colors captured during the original scan.

In its initial trial, couples made models of themselves to use as wedding cake toppers; military personal, police officers and football (soccer) referees showed off their uniforms; and kids touted sports trophies they had won. "Before" and "after" figures for those with a goal of losing weight are also popular.

At the Code Conference that took place in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, Doug McMillan, the new CEO of Walmart, the parent of Asda, noted that Walmart has tested 3-D printing. "We have had some tests in this country and a couple of others, just bringing 3D printers into the store to show them to customers and create a mini-me, a statue of you, and we can’t keep them in stock," he said, according to 3-Dprint.

Mr. McMillon suspects Walmart will soon be printing numerous products for customers inside stores and distribution centers.

Other articles indicate that 3-D printing technologies are quickly advancing as prices for printers come down dramatically — as low as $150 to $350. Space-efficiency, another hurdle, is also improving to speed the promise of making 3-D printers a common purchase for home use.

Would mini-me statuettes hold broad appeal for American consumers? Is the 3-D printing opportunity more about machines for home use or retail products made in stores and warehouses?

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12 Comments on "3-D printing creates the ‘shelfie’"

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Dr. Stephen Needel

I’m trying to decide if this is creepy and narcissistic or incredibly cool. And let’s give props to the originator of this idea,The Big Bang Theory. Sooner or later, we’d expect it to come home if the manufacturers keep on coming up with new uses.

Max Goldberg

I love 3-D sculptures of the bride and groom for wedding cakes. This and other uses could propel 3-D printing into the mainstream and offer new revenue streams to tech-savvy retailers. By testing the functionality at retail, and with the dropping prices, consumers can find uses for the machines in their lives. The lower—and still dropping—price points make these machines an easy purchase for many consumers.

A similar model would be photo printing. At first almost all photos were professionally developed because they utilized film and a complex printing process. Then digital cameras came along with new printers that could deliver quality prints in consumers’ homes. Now consumers can print at home or ship images electronically to retailers for printing. Look for 3-D printers to do undergo the same metamorphosis.

Ryan Mathews

No one ever went broke betting on ego—at least not in this country.

On a slightly more serious note; 3-D printing will have home AND retail—or more broadly, commercial—applications.

As the cost of the technology comes down and the sophistication increases, the issue won’t be where it’s used but where it will not be used.

3-D is just the next frontier. I wouldn’t invest in the selfie business, though. Pretty soon 3-year-olds will be doing them at home.

Bob Phibbs

Target audience would seem to be Millennials but the price point, at this point, would seem at odds with their thriftiness. I can see more Baby Boomers having fun with the concept and treating their kids.

A fun way to bring excitement to brick-and-mortar shops.

Frank Riso

I can see myself making statuettes of the grandkids at different ages and at certain sporting events, but not statuettes of myself. Too much plastic for my taste. I do see them in retail but mostly in the QSR space. If you have ever tried to purchase a kid’s meal with the one-and-only toy they wanted being out of stock. I think being able to print it on-demand will be a big winner. Printing models of furniture and room layouts may be of benefit, too. I just like the idea of 3-D printing, and it is too new to decide all of its use for both home and retail, but it will be there for sure.

Marge Laney
3 years 3 months ago

3-D printers are the new jet packs—everyone will have one in their home and will print all the stuff they used to go to the store for. I don’t think so.

We have a 3-D printer. Mind you, it’s two years old which is ancient in the world of technology, and we use it for prototyping. It’s about the size of a refrigerator and takes anywhere from one to eight hours to produce anything.

While I think having 3-D things made for sale in stores and online is a cool novelty that will continue to grow with the products discussed in the article, I don’t see the masses producing their clothing or other goods in the comfort of their own homes—ever.

Steve Montgomery

In reading a number of articles on 3-D imaging, it would appear that smaller home use versions are not quite ready for prime-time. As the technology improves this may change. However, building Lego blocks of a single color in one thing; creating a full color 3-D color sculpture is another.

Another technology that will have to change to make it possible for this to be completely home-based is photography. There will have to be a way to capture a high quality 3-D image on which the model could be based at home, or users will still have to go to a location to have the image captured.

Mel Kleiman

Statuettes are interesting. A great novelty which I am sure will find a place in the market place. More important than the evolutionary effect of 3-D printing is the revolutionary effect this technology is going to bring across the whole field of manufacturing, distribution and retail. It will be interesting to see what new applications will be found for this awesome technology.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Naomi K. Shapiro
3 years 3 months ago

The question is, “would mini-me statuettes hold broad appeal for American consumers?” I say; yes, yes, yes. A novelty and ego-serving. The home use of 3-D printing will probably have to evolve, as computers, printers, fax machines, copiers and scanners did, but it will come. For now, the main use will be retail products made in stores and warehouses.

Herb Sorensen

Mini-me is only the tip of the iceberg of technology that is rising from the sea of human creativity and imagination. In this case, the technology is giving us ALL the capability to see not only ourselves, but a great deal more of our world and beyond. My wife has dozens of full-sized photo albums documenting decades of family and friends—and a whole lot more. I think we are going to need holographic albums to deal with this in the future.

Craig Sundstrom

So THIS is how the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” really works out! I’m sure shelfies will have some appeal—at least for those who want to lay out three score quid—but I’m less sure why we should really worry about it. Anyway, I think the key line here is “arrives within two weeks,” although obviously, production time is only a small part of it, the time-frame (coupled with the aforementioned price) helps to underscore what 3D printing is not…namely it is not a mass production technique, or a practical means for people outside of hobbyists and model builders to be creating household goods. So the idea that this will “bring manufacturing back to the U.S.” or—even less plausibly—everyone’s basement will be turned into a factory…sorry, no.

Shilpa Rao

It would be a great gift idea, especially to go on the top of the wedding cake. Given the maturity at which 3-D printing is today, it makes a great use case for retail products in stores, where they could be personalized. The quality of input material required and the desired finish does not justify the cost for a home user to get various types of products home printed with the current maturity of technology, but would make a good use case for a retailer.


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