3D Printing at a Disadvantage for Retail Thrills

By on January 25th, 2017 in Ideas


 Using technology to attract customers
Using technology to attract customers

I’m watching a video showing how retailers are using a variety of technologies to attract shoppers to their establishments. 

The video, produced by VOA News, shows how retail operations leverage technologies like augmented reality, virtual displays, navigational apps and other twenty-first century stuff to hopefully make busy shoppers at least stop and look at their business, if not buy products and services. 

The report, entitled “Retailers Explore 3D Printers, Robots to Lure Customers”, curiously does not include any evidence of 3D printers in their examples, despite the title. It does include a view of an interesting device that can “print” a complete custom-fit shirt in 45 minutes, but that’s definitely not 3D printing. 

But in the past you may have seen a 3D printer in a retail store, simply to attract attention to the shop. I’ve consulted with a few organizations who have considered such a move. 

But in each case it really wasn’t a practical matter, with the primary barrier being the time required to complete a print. 

Consider an augmented reality application in a storefront, where a passerby could, for example, have their picture taken beside a favorite comic character. That activity takes only seconds to execute and is immediately understandable from a quick glance. 

That’s utterly different from the typical 3D printer experience, where you have a (possibly) sealed box that runs for, say, four hours, to produce a small, poorly finished object. 

That’s not going to thrill anyone. 

It might have for a couple of years in the past when this was all new, but it certainly won’t now. Thus 3D printing has a new, additional disadvantage in the consumer space: competition from other cool technologies that are easier to use and understand. 

One wonders whether consumer 3D printing will ever be feasible.

I remain optimistic, but it is going to take someone to invent or overcome these very key problems: 

  • The prints take far too long. We need printers that produce completed items in less than a minute.
  • The materials have be be varied, multiple and safe.
  • Designs for any common object have to be immediately and easily available at low cost, or there must be a way for literally anyone to design in 3D. 

Those are very strong barriers that I cannot see being overcome for many years. But there are those who are working on them, so stay tuned. 

Via VOA News

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!