Is 3D printing the next consumer technology to take off in business?

By Alyson Edmunds Mobility Expert at Telefónica UK

Could 3D printing be the next consumer technology to take off in business? This is something I’ve got to thinking after seeing the latest advancements in 3D printing at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The biggest challenge to 3D printing for business is the need for mass manufacturing. In these days of eCommerce, rapid distribution and commoditisation of technology economies of scale is king. Personally I don’t think 3D printing is in a place to challenge mass production but where it could get really interesting – especially with 3D printers inevitably becoming more affordable – is with the on demand printing of small components.

It’s been well documented that Amazon see drones as the future of the quick delivery of small packages. However if consumers had a 3D printer, using a 4G connection they could have the necessary part produced and in a matter of minutes, wherever they are. An extreme example of this is the International Space Station which has just installed a 3D printer. They recently beamed a wrench up to orbit which was then printed in just 4 hours – a true Star Trek experience.

Another example of where 3D printing of small components could work for business is for the printing of specialised business critical parts. Imagine on an oil rig – what once would’ve required considerable down time as parts are ordered could now be replaced in a matter of minutes and hours. Replacements could be used as a permanent fix or just as a short term solution to keep the lights running while the long term part arrives.

Other good examples of 3D printing for business are in the services and retail industries. For services, engineers could print a part on demand and take to the customer minimising down time and impact of faulty part. And for retail 3D printing could be used to produce customised products on demand. This is something I know O2 have trialled in their flagship Tottenham Court Rd store. Customers were able to design a bespoke mobile phone case and collect just a few hours later – a trial at the moment but a good indicator of how 3D printing can be leveraged by business.

Also what’s to say that 3D printing is limited to just plastics? As usual at CES the techies went one step further and used 3D printing to make intricate structures out of Hershey’s chocolate. But there wasn’t all, at CES we had 3D printed pizza and even biscuits.  While it might seem like a bit of fun at the moment 3D printed food could open up a whole host of new possibilities for the food, confectionary, catering and retail sectors.

I’d love to know if your business looking into the possibilities of 3D printing.  Get in touch with me on twitter @alyfairburn