3D printing is quintessential of-the-moment technology and its disrupting aspects will amount to a structural change for certain industries, such as toy manufacturing, as parts of the supply chain will eventually disappear completely. Retailers can expect big changes as their bricks and mortar outlets offer on-demand 3D printing.

Microwave, meet 3D printer

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has actually been around for decades, primarily as an industrial tool for specialist work and research. Nowadays, rapid advances in technology and materials have put 3D printers on track to be as ubiquitous as microwaves. Cost and quality limitations make this a prohibitive proposition at present, but for consumer-facing businesses with the capital, there is wisdom in getting started now.

We build, you build

At face value 3D printing might present as an obvious anathema to Lego’s business model given the company’s position encompassing the entire value chain for the colourful blocks. Lego has expressed some optimism, however, about the coming change and has embraced 3D printing to an extent by offering customers an opportunity to personalise their iconic bricks.

As with anything, whether retailers view the technology as a threat or an opportunity will depend on their attitude and responsiveness. Amazon has patented the rights to a mobile 3D printer, the idea being that it will complement the business model and Amazon’s prominence in logistics and distribution. The company’s product developers are envisioning a system whereby customers place their orders online as usual, and the item is subsequently printed in the very same Amazon vehicle that makes the delivery.

Just popping out…

High street retailers have long felt the winds of change from the blustery entrance of Internet-only competition, but is a countervailing force brewing? The prospect of a local high-quality 3D printing retailer amounts to a very strong USP for customers who, once they have identified a product they want, can merely pop around the corner to their local printer and pick it up. An obvious change here would be a return to the high street – at least until the printer takes pride of place ahead of the microwave.