As Additive Manufacturing processes are evolving at a fast pace, they are creating whole new markets. 3D printed customer goods are starting to take off, in what we expect to be one of the most client oriented market sectors. Printing in three dimensions allows manufacturers to produce goods that will fit perfectly with the customer wants and needs and allow them to create personalised products.
We wanted to know more about the commercialisation of 3D printed things, so we spoke to Sören Olsson who is Business Development Manager at Materialise about the prospects for this new market.

How have you seen the marketplace for 3D printed consumer goods develop in the past year?

As 3D Printing develops, the expectations surrounding it also rise: and the consumer goods industry always has particularly high standards. That is driving new trends in Additive Manufacturing, towards ensuring and improving speed, reliability, repeatability and transparency in production. These parameters are crucial to consumer goods, where design iterations are fast and the requirements of precision and consistency are high. The consumer goods industry is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible with 3D Printing.

Besides custom-made 3D printed eyewear, what other 3D printed consumer goods can we expect to buy in the near future?

3D Printing is ideal for any manufacturing project with high value and low volumes. One example of that is any project involving customization: which happens to be a strong trend in the consumer goods industry. Since 3D Printing doesn’t need prior tooling and encourages profitable short series, design upgrades can be put into production immediately, giving a brand a better chance to respond to market demands and trends.

These two advantages of 3D Printing — short lead times and customization without additional cost — are the most important for consumer goods brands. The eyewear industry has certainly made great use of these two benefits, but to take another example, the footwear industry is not far behind. Our collaboration with RS Scan for customized Phits insoles has already shown how individually tailored orthotics are well within reach today, and we worked with Adidas last year for the highly publicized Futurecraft project with 3D-printed midsoles. We also have an ongoing project with Tailored Fits, a Swiss startup that makes ski boots, for customized insoles that dramatically improve comfort and performance.

How can manufacturers use 3D printed parts to improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process?

3D Printing in manufacturing can take two forms: 3D-printed end-use parts, like spare parts for an aircraft, or 3D-printed production tools, like grippers for the assembly line that makes parts for aircraft.

In both cases, you can enhance the efficiency of the process. 3D printing end-parts drastically shortens your time-to-market, as you go directly from product development to production — skipping two very time-consuming steps, tool development, and tool production. As for production tools, that’s a less often talked-about aspect of 3D Printing which can offer huge cost savings and efficiency gains. Our customers Philips Lighting realized a cost savings of €89,000 a year with reinvented production tools, while a food processing OEM uses 3D Printing for mass customized nozzles.

3D Printing can be used to develop a variety of customized tools designed for their specific tasks, from jigs and fixtures to feeder bowls, brackets and nozzles, to improve efficiency throughout the production line.

Can you give us some examples of work that Materialise has done with Nordic manufacturing companies?

We have a diverse portfolio of projects with our Nordic partners, from a manufacturing project with design studio KAYIWA for a special clothes rack to a prototyping project with Norwegian Special Mission in the aeronautics industry. We have worked with Laerdal Medical to create a heart rate sensor to reduce infant mortality, and we have worked with the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland to produce a hydraulic valve with minimal risk of leakage.

What do you think is the main thing that is holding companies back in adopting additive manufacturing?

AM requires a change in conventional design principles, in order to reap the full benefits of 3D Printing. Mistakes arise when new users attempt to apply conventional design principles to AM, rather than designing with AM in mind. As with introducing any new process into an existing production line, that initial investment required to develop a new design and engineering approach for additive manufacturing can be a barrier. As AM continues to grow more affordable per cubic centimeter and more printable materials enter the market, particularly for Metal 3D Printing, that barrier will continue to disappear.