Impact of 3D printing for consumers

Over the past months, I wrote several articles about the impact of 3D printing. In this last article of this series, I am writing about the impact of 3D printing for consumers.

From a consumer’s point of view, 3D printing has two major impacts:

  • Affordable one off production
  • On demand manufacturing

These two aspects can have a major impact on how consumers select and buy products. In this post, I will explore what the consequences can be.

The most obvious one is that consumers get more choice. Out of stock does not have to exist anymore. Products can be produced on demand when there is demand. It is like the on demand printing of books offered by Amazon when the original book is out of print. WIthout the necessity to build a large supply chain or keep stock, the risk for companies and product designers is lower for the introduction of new products. I expect a significant increase in the number of available products. Especially niche products will become commercially viable. Similar to the out-of-print books at Amazon. Extending that metaphor, there is no longer a need to end a product life cycle. Products can be available forever. This goes beyond the products itself, but can extend to spare parts, as well. Or even improvements or extensions to an existing product.

Another one is that products can better fit the needs of their buyers. One off production enables significant options for personalization and customization of products to customer requirements. This will lead to higher product satisfaction with buyers. They no longer have to choose the best of the rest, but they can actually get a product which they have in mind. This will increase the value perception of products by consumers.

It can also lead to better products. By continuous designs updates based on feedback from users, the product can be improved with each production run. It is also possible to adapt products for special use cases where today a one-size-fits-all product is the only option.

In short the impact on consumers can be summarized as:

  • more choice for consumers
  • endless availability of product
  • better product fit to the needs of its users
  • better products

3D printing and one off production will have a significant impact on consumers, and how they select, buy and perceive products. I do not expect that all products or product categories are affected though. Custom jewelry has been around since forever and although it became more affordable to buy personalized jewelry, it still very common to buy off-the-shelf jewelry at the store (and I am not counting engraving here). The change will be gradual and will move from niche and expensive to popular and affordable products.