The potential impact of 3D printing on retail is immeasurable.
Poised to shake up every section of the supply chain from manufacturing to brick-and-mortar stores, this smart technology is worth getting excited about. And with printing technology developing at lightning quick speed, it’s something that retailers can’t ignore for much longer.
So here’s everything you need to know about 3D printing, and how it’s already transforming retail and exhibition design.
How are retailers using 3D printing today?
When 3D printing first appeared on our radars it was hard to imagine how it might be used in the real world (at least outside of aerospace engineering). But jump forward to 2018 and businesses are already using this smart tech to innovate everything from product production to in-store design.
This year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture offers a spectacular example of the design potential of 3D printing. Working with London-based Ai Build, Croatian artist Alisa Andrasek created the Cloud Pergola project – one of the world’s largest structures to be built through precision engineering, computational design and robotic fabrication.
3D printed entirely by robots, the installation hints out how designers and architects can use this technology to push the boundaries of spaces, opening up the possibility of producing complex retail and exhibition design that is driven by big data and robotics.
3D printing might make it easier to mass produce designs, but it also promises even more customisation. Take Hans Boodt, the bespoke mannequin designer that’s using 3D printing to create ultra-lifelike figures. With an in-house 3 D design studio, Hans Boodt are able to take brand buyer personas to the next level, creating characters with their own distinctive charisma.
And it’s not only mannequins that can benefit from the customization offered by 3D printing. Adidas has already dropped its first 3D-printed running shoes – the first trainers to be robotically tailored to an individual’s foot.
The future of 3D printing in retail
The development of 3D printing has only just begun. There may only be a handful of retail use cases today, but already brands are investing in smart tech in anticipation of a retail and exhibition design revolution. So what can we expect from 3D printing in the future?
User-designed production. With the future of 3D printing promising fast and affordable production, we can expect customers to play a much more hands-on role when it comes to customising their purchases.
Diverse choice of materials
3D printed products have been traditionally been made out of thermoplastics and metal, but now more and more materials are being added to this portfolio, including glass, rubber and composites, increasing the opportunities for brands to benefit from the technology.
Some commentators have argued that the rise of 3D printing might lead to the demise of physical retail as customers print off their purchases at home. Yet others see this smart technology as an opportunity for brick-and-mortar shops to become experiential hubs, with in-store 3D printers allowing customers to take part in the production process.
3D printing might still be in its infancy, but we can already see how it’s set to transform what we buy and how we shop. As 3D printed products become easier and faster to produce, we can expect to see retail designers pushing the boundaries of creativity, customisation and experiential opportunities.