No counters and stockrooms, instant access to goods without long lines, and the possibility to change characteristics and appearance of products right inside the store. That’s the future retail that was promised to us by experts years ago when the world was presented with the 3D printing technology. Years pass, traditional store formats remain the same, but in some places, the future does burst through the thickness of everyday life. Desktop 3D printers are becoming more affordable and easy to get for regular users, while large companies use new technologies and create awesome things. Today, we are going to take a look at 5 examples when 3D printing was successfully implemented by large retail companies.
3D printing is the construction of a real object based on a digital 3D model. The model is saved as an STL-file, which is then used by the 3D printer to build the actual model.
The process of creating an object itself is quite easy: layers of consumable material are continuously applied to the print bed until the product is finished. Such an automated mechanical method of manufacturing serves as an alternative to the traditional methods of prototyping and small-scale production.
Let’s take a look at how modern retail companies made use of this technology.
Personalized IKEA chairs
In June 2018, IKEA, a global retail giant, announced the beginning of the development of Ubik gaming chairs created with 3D printers. Although Ubik does not resemble the classic gaming chairs, in their ergonomic properties, they will not be inferior to competitors. To carry out this project, IKEA teamed up with UNIQ, a Swedish manufacturer of medical prostheses.
The possibility of complete personalization allows for maximum comfort. The clients can scan their bodies thanks to the technology developed by UNYQ; then the prostheses manufacturer will develop a 3D model of the chair that would fit their customers the most, based on their constitution, weight, and other physical attributes.
The chair features a two-panel mesh platform that instantly adapts to the user’s body and can be easily made on a 3D printer. The first Ubik chairs will go on sale in 2020.
“Liquid” Reebok sneakers
The main issue in manufacturing sneakers is the complex production of molds for the sole. On average, it takes about 18 months to make such a mold for professional sports shoes.
In March 2018, Reebok, a well-known American manufacturer of sportswear, presented its new “liquid” sneakers in the Liquid Factory series. This solution is supposed to completely solve the problem with long production cycles. The development of these sneakers started back in 2016 by Bill McInnis, director of Reebok Future, and a former NASA engineer.
The unique outsoles of the Liquid Factory sneakers are 3D printed with liquid polyurethanes, which is why the production of such shoes takes less time.
Thanks to the rheological properties of polyurethane, which quickly regains its shape after hitting the ground, the “liquid sole” perfectly compensates for the energy of movement and can adapt to the shape of the foot, providing maximum comfort.
“Knit for You” by Adidas
Imagine entering a room where a variety of different patterns are being projected onto your chest. You simply have to run your hand through the air to pick the pattern you like.
Once you have confirmed all the parameters on the computer, press the “print” button, and before your eyes, several knitting machines combined into one 3D printer will knit your unique sweater.
This is exactly how the Adidas store located in the famous Berlin shopping center Bikini Berlin works with 3D printing. Of course, such a sweater will cost about 200 euros. However, such opportunities for customization and personalization of clothes attract hundreds of customers, which is why Adidas plans to open similar “knitting studios” in other European chain stores.
Nescafe will wake you up
Nescafé, the world’s biggest coffee brand, used the technology of three-dimensional printing in its own unique way, releasing special Nescafé Alarm Caps.
According to the original idea, the awakening is supposed to be accompanied by the smell of ground coffee. The Nescafé alarm clock cover is entirely 3D-printed, which not only significantly reduces the cost of production but also attracts customers.
The research team of Tangible Media Group that works closely with major retail chains and restaurants, used 3D printing to develop flat pasta made of gelatin and starch, which transforms in water and takes on a volumetric shape.
Gelatin naturally expands when water is absorbed, giving researchers the ability to manipulate food shapes. This technology helps to save on food packaging since “flat” pasta is much easier to fit in small boxes.
With the help of 3D printers, scientists can dose the percentages of gelatin and starch in pasta, which allows controlling the shape the product takes after contact with water. In the future, the company plans to use similar shape control technologies with other products.
3D printers are still being cautiously introduced into retail, although they occupy almost all its niches: from furniture and clothing to food. The technology of 3D printing is mainly used by large retailers in search of new ways to promote products and attract new customers. Whether three-dimensional printing will displace traditional forms of production and trade – we’ll find out in the near future.