3D design of products is not just for experienced engineers anymore. At least two companies, located in different countries, see a market for 3D printed goods where average consumers can buy unique objects that better reflect what they want and need over today’s mass produced products.
One of the companies is the Shapeways Shops, a co-creation service and community that turns 3D designs into physical objects. Peter Weijmarshausen is the CEO of this company that comes out of the Lifestyle Incubator of Royal Philips Electronics, located in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. This online store lets anyone who can point and click develop a 3D model and sell tangible products worldwide without any start-up costs. They handle production, shipping, and distribution for you. Design rights stay with you. You can even create a storefront and sell your designs through it within the website. Shapeways does the production, shipping, billing, and customer service so that you can concentrate on design.
The next company that is using a similar business model is Digital Reality Inc. Chris Norman, CEO, is working on a patent for his Made to Order Digital Manufacturing Enterprise (MTODME) concept. His dream is to connect designers, consumers, and service bureaus into a seamless online community.
Said Norman, “My vision is of a fully automated system that allows consumers to design their own products through the Internet and see the results of their orders in real time. Then, their designs will be manufactured using rapid prototyping technology. Designers will be able to bring their concepts to market and sell them without worrying about the overhead or inventory.”
Norman’s term for this concept is “crowd sourcing,” which means bringing products to market that consumers want, taking advantage of the concept of mass customization, and creating the product through direct digital manufacturing. Norman sees the concept as “virtualizing” product flow. “One aspect of this idea is that it may remove the logistics of making parts. You can send your 3D CAD program to any service bureau for production and bypass tariffs, distribution, and import or export fees.”
Shapeways focuses on decorative products, such as candles, cups, lamps, and fruit bowls with a personal message linking back to memorable moments. The early stage items of Digital Reality include custom motorcycle parts and hot rod accessories; “items that are difficult to find,” noted Norman.
Aside from potentially competing business ideas, one of the challenges faced by both companies is material. The types of material currently used for rapid prototyping necessarily limits product design and availability. How successful either of these companies will be is undetermined now, but the idea is an interesting one, and may spark your creative juices.
Digital Reality, Inc.