With all the buzz surrounding 3D printing, you might be surprised to know that it has actually been around for decades. Nonetheless new computing technologies have greatly increased its potential, allowing new models to be envisaged, designed and customised in a matter of minutes, before being transmitted to a 3D printer for production.
Amazon yesterday debuted the next step in the business evolution of 3D printing, combining its massive online shopping infrastructure with on-demand manufacturing. The new platform, called ‘Creative Expressions’ allows users to select a product, and view it as a 3D model. There the user can customize the object’s colour and design features. Once a suitable design has been selected and purchased, the object is then 3D printed, and shipped to the Amazon customer.
It is important to note however, that Amazon is not actually 3D printing the objects themselves in-house. Rather, they are using 3rd party manufacturers such as Sculpteo, MixeeLabs and 3DLT to do the actual printing. In addition, currently users are restricted to only working with designs provided by Amazon and/or these companies, possibly due to concerns that customers would create designs which would be impossible to 3D print.
Despite being in a very early and basic stage, what Amazon has done may indeed be the first step towards a whole new manufacturing paradigm. Through combining one of the world’s largest online stores with 3D printing, they are paving the way for a post-Mass Production economy.
Instead of relying on economies of scale, and limited choices, 3D printing allows for the creation of relatively low-cost small-run or one off products. This kind of product would theoretically allow a company such as Amazon to only need to hold the raw materials used by 3D printers, while the actual objects which they list online would simply be printed on demand. Of course such steps would require further progress in 3D printing technology, but should it be possible, it could massively reduce costs and industrial waste.
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