3D printing continues to be a global spectacle in 2014, making appearances from Las Vegas during International CES and Barcelona during Mobile World Congress. With the 3D printing industry predicted to reach $10.8 billion by 2021, many are asking how it will change the future of the consumer landscape, much like MP3 players and iPods transformed the music industry. While the answers may not be obvious, there are a number of ways 3D printing will impact the daily lives of consumers in years to come.
Opening the door to customization
A major appeal to everyday consumers is how 3D printing opens the entryway to customization. From custom jewelry to food, the possibilities when using a 3D printer are endless. As 3D printers become more accessible over time, so will the ability to print items that are extremely personalized and tailored to each user. If we think about most of the products we buy, they are commoditized in some way for the average person; jeans are a certain length and cabinet handles come in standardized sizes. 3D printing allows consumers to create items exactly the way they need or want them – ultimately, letting customers set their own parameters. Companies like Nokia and New Balance, for example, have taken to the 3D printing trend and now offer online services where consumers can customize their own 3D printed cell phone case or sneakers, respectively.
Creating at home convenience
Beyond the ability to custom 3D print apparel and gadgets, there is massive potential in at-home 3D printing. The average consumer can easily use a 3D printer to produce everyday items like plates, utensils, and home furnishings. At its core, 3D printing at home is about being able to conveniently download and print a model of nearly any item a consumer may want to make their living space more comfortable and appealing. Looking at the music industry, the way people listen to and purchase music has dramatically changed over time. Take the traditional music cassette or CD – the need to go to a store no longer exists thanks to online downloads, giving the consumer more control and immediate access to new music at any time. 3D printing has the same potential to do that for almost every item in our homes – giving consumers power over when they make a purchase and when they print it.
A lasting impact
3D printing is a specialized and emerging technology, and one that will have a lasting impact for the everyday consumer in years to come. As increased interest in customization continues to trend, 3D printing will become more in demand. And as consumers become more open to the practical use for 3D printers in 2014, soon enough the question will shift from how we will print things to what we will print.