How 3D Printing Will Change The Way We Un-dress
I’m sure the best thing to happen to the 3D printing industry lately is the fact that Victorias Secret is using 3D printed wings in its upcoming fashion show. By combining sexy lingerie with one the sexiest emerging technologies, what more could I guy want. The outfit if you’ve seen it, would not be that comfortable lying down, but then again I don’t think that’s the point. What is the point though is that 3D printing is slowly making its way from an application that is useful for prototypes of aircraft parts or production of hearing aids, to becoming a transformative technology for design and lifestyle brands.
3D printing is starting to make its way into our every day lives and we are at the beginning of a revolution that will transform our society in ways we can’t even imagine. It will give rise to thousands of new businesses; new ways of distribution, new processes of intellectual property management, and create an entrepreneurial and financial tidal wave that could one day dwarf the Internet in its scale and disruptive power.
The world will transform from a macro-manufactured supply chain to a micro-manufactured supply chain, or what is known as distributed manufacturing. And this supply chain will not be thousands of miles long. Rather than one factory producing 10 million toys a month, there could be 10 million factories producing one toy a month, and those factories will not be overseas, but in your kitchen, your garage or wherever you feel like putting your 3D printer.
Today’s desktop machines can print your phone case, your sunglasses, or your favorite coffee cup. Your printer can also make the jewelry line you always wanted to make but couldn’t afford to produce. Not only is it more convenient, it’s cheaper. Recently CNN did a study that compared buying 20 items that included orthotic insoles, an iPhone case, garlic press, safety razor, perogi mold, and spoon holder. They found that printing all 20 objects took about 25 hours and cost a grand total of $18 in plastic and electricity. The savings came out to between $294 and $1,926, depending on the quality of the comparable retail products. And that is in 2013. Imagine in 2020 when if we are to take Moore’s Law into effect, it will take one hour and cost $5.
I recently launched a collection of Stainless Steel Mens accessories using 3D printing from Shapeways, the world’s leading 3D Printing marketplace and community. Shapeways also produced the Victorias Secret wings. The NY startup harnesses 3D Printing to help anyone turn ideas into reality, making product design more accessible, personal, and inspiring.
Working with their team based in New York I was able to realize my collection quickly and efficiently. The process is every designers dream. For one thing, the prototype stage is dramatically shortened to several days and not several months, as is the usual process. Even more compelling is that we don’t have to plan months of inventory and purchase it up front, we only print on demand. And to top it off, Shapeways prints and delivers the products to our customers directly without our need for warehousing or any overhead for that part of the supply chain.
Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO and Co-Founder of Shapeways. “Last year we helped the fashion industry take 3D printing from runway to retail, from the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show to our collaboration with Nick Graham. And this is just the beginning: as materials and technologies improve, and as creative imaginations run wild, we'll likely see an explosion of 3D Printing in fashion. 3D printing makes custom and couture accessible for everyone."
So how will 3D printing change our lives and the traditional supply chain in fashion and design?
In 1942, the economist Joseph Schumpter coined the phrase “creative destruction,” how free markets lead to progress. Progress may not be pretty, but it is progress just the same. There probably isn’t a better example of creative destruction than what is happening in the world of 3D. Companies that make three-dimensional objects (and there are a few of those!) need to start looking at their products in terms of digital delivery. It is no different from how music downloads changed the music business. Songs are really just a bunch of ones and zeros, that when played back, are songs; but in their delivery they are simply code. “Products” as we know them, are heading in the same direction. Mattel may eventually never produce toys, but simply sell the format to print Ken and Barbie. Consumers would pay a fee to download and print the renderings, much as they do with songs.
Putting this in perspective, according to some estimates, 10% of all consumer products by the year 2025 will be made by the 3D process.
Because of this, brands will need to be more compelling than ever. In the hands of thousands more designers who can produce an enormous variety of objects and who can by pass the traditional forms of both production and distribution, there will be thousands of toy companies competing with Mattel. The Internet has created superstars overnight, so you know full well there will be a Justin Bieber or two of the 3D world.
The Internet has already upended many traditional business models. Retailers who were once giants in their channel are no longer dominant. Tower Records. Blockbuster. Stores that 15 years ago we would have never guessed would disappear. But they have. What have remained untouched so far are physical products; but their transformation is not far behind.
And so how will this change the fashion world? Well to start with the process as I described for objects such as jewelry and accessories will be the first to be most affected. It is not going to change that world overnight, but it will change it significantly. The ability for designers everywhere to compete on a global basis using companies such as Shapeways technology evens the playing field for those designers to go direct to the market and by-pass traditional channels.
As to producing fabrics and textiles that we can wear comfortably its still a ways off, but it will happen. We will see apparel made from 3D that is soft to the touch and perhaps even more resilient than fabrics we know of now. It will not upend the fashion industry, there is just too much apparel in the world to be made, but it will make inroads.
So how far can all this go? Recently I’ve been talking to some very talented 3D designers in New York who have a lot of insight in the future of the process. Among our many conversations, the idea of 4D printing was brought up. 4D printing is creating programmable matter, which will allow us to print objects that then reshape themselves or self-assemble over time.
This means you could program your bracelet to become a fork, and then it could change itself back again to your bracelet once you’re done eating. Or perhaps taking the idea of Victorias Secret idea even further, we could program jeans to become lingerie and then back again. Now that would be something.
That’s a long way off, of course, but its fun to play with the possibilities. But this whole subject should give us pause and excite us at the same time. We are on the cusp of something new and amazing, and it’s an open source discussion on how it will affect our lives.
But the best part of all of this is if you lose your mind thinking about it, you can always print another one.
Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images