Printing, but not as we know it.

This week, our resident 3D printing fan, Steve Litton, tells us everything we'd ever wanted to know about 3D printing, and how it can work for retailers.

The first working 3D printer was created back in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp.

Typically, manufacture is done using a subtractive work process, but 3D printers work in a more logical way using only the materials needed for the job in hand, reducing waste.

Though 3D printing has been around since the mid 80s, in the last 5 years has it has been launched into the public eye by being made attainable outside of commercial use.

In the past, 3D printing and manufacture has only been something used by big production companies for things like engineering.

The 3D printing process is achieved through creating a digital model using 3D modelling software.

Once the model is created you can then send the data to a 3D printer to be created.

The 3D printer then forms the object by using an additive manufacture process creating shaped layers until the object is complete.

This can take anything from hours to days, depending on the printer and complexity of the object.

3D printing is now so widely accessible that anyone can use one, even with relatively little technical knowledge.

You can buy a 3D printer for around £1,600 fully built, but you can save a lot of money by taking the DIY route.

You can print anything from a simple shape to a complex model with working parts.

The only limit to what you can print is your imagination.

It is an amazing thing to be able to make one-off objects easily without having to get someone to manufacture it or build a physical prototype by hand.

So far people have printed parts for cars, planes and even the human body.

Outside of mainstream manufacture it is still a little expensive to produce things for wholesale, but a lot of smaller scale communities like Shapeways already exist selling everything from phone cases to jewellery.

The future...

A team in Amsterdam are already building a 13 room house including the furniture completely from 3D printed materials.

This proves the potential of what can be achieved in the years to come.

As printers and the materials lower in cost there will be people building on a much larger scale.

How the fashion industry is using it...

There is a rapidly growing market of fashion items being printed and sold on sites like Etsy and Shapeways.

People are printing bags, rings, necklaces, glasses and even bow ties!

The best thing about this kind of retail is that you can produce your stock per order and do not need to worry about paying for excessive storage or struggling to sell certain items.

The problem a lot of sellers run into is that all sites that specialise in selling 3D printed items aren't really known to people outside of that community.

That’s where we come in with help in branding the product ranges and bespoke personal site creation.

Once you have built your model prototype and combined it into a slick eCommerce store you are ready to start selling!

In the future when 3D printers become commonplace, sellers will be able to just sell the models at a reduced rate and let the users print the item themselves.

This cuts out delivery waiting times and charges.

So, for anybody interested in any area of physical production, 3D printers are going to be worth looking into.

This shift in available personal product manufacture will increase the amount of product choice we see with lots of new startups coming in to the marketplace.

We are very excited to see what comes out of it.

When you make powerful technology available to everyday, creative people, amazing things will happen.

- Steve Litton.


Above image is by Petrovsky & Ramone.