3D Printing


The high street has taken a severe bashing in recent years due to the rise in online shopping. With most people now buying more and more online rather than making a trip to the shops many retailers have already gone out of business and more will surely follow. The day is dawning where some retail premises will be little more than showrooms where you can view goods before ordering online. Just as businesses adapt to the new world another threat is on the horizon in the shape of 3D printing.

Cost and Convenience

Consumers purchase online for reasons of cost and convenience but what if they could make what they need themselves at home? 3D printing presents the very real possibility that a raft of goods could be produced domestically via relatively inexpensive equipment. The revolution has already started and whilst applications are limited today, tomorrow anything could be possible. Think back to the days of dot matrix printers and compare their output to the photographs you can produce from your desktop now.




Look closely and you can already see the signs of things to come. The changes will surely begin with customisation, the ability to choose features of a product before it is printed and sent to you. Companies are already experimenting with footwear, guitars, jewellery and toys. Soon you will be able to order a doll with the facial details, hair colour and physique that you require and shoes which perfectly fit your feet. Current output is limited by the materials which can be extruded but new developments arrive every day.

New Materials

Whilst currently only shoe soles and cleats and the outer body of a guitar can be 3D printed when new materials are available it could be the entire shoe or every element of an instrument. Wooden products are already possible as illustrated by a company called 4 AXYZ who have developed a technique using quality wood which will enable the production of customised furniture. A wooden 3D printed classical guitar may be just around the corner.

Cheaper Technology

Of course manufacturers and retailers can adapt to the changing world by moving their focus to customised products but what if consumers could print their own goods or even design them themselves? Whilst printers remain costly and printing materials limited the take-up of the systems will be small but the technology is becoming more accessible all the time. New York Based MakerBot are now taking pre orders on a new printer which will sell for just $1350. This is certainly a sign of things to come.


The Future

I can still remember the days when camcorders first came on to the market. A portable video camera seemed like a miracle but they were really expensive and few people could afford one. They were cumbersome too but now you can film quality footage on your mobile phone. 3D printing is a snowball which is rolling rapidly and the day will come when you can design the things you want yourself or use software to do it and then print them off in the spare bedroom. The future for high street retailing is not looking great!

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Sally Stacey is a keen writer and retail business owner who divides her time between writing and running his shop.

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