Consumer Products

Consumer users of 3D printing technologies and 3D printed consumer products have become an increasingly relevant segment of additive manufacturing. While the dream of consumer 3D printing products on-demand, at home, remains a mirage, literally millions of consumer products have begun integrating mass-produced – and in some cases, mass-customized – 3D printed elements.

When talking about consumer segments, there are actually two very different targets for the AM industry to consider. The first and most relevant category for the future of AM is that of regular consumers who purchase 3D printed products because these offer better characteristics than traditionally manufactured products. The second category is made of enthusiasts and hobbyists who use 3D printers as a DIY tool to further explore the production of products such as drones, miniature models, RC cars, robots or even the 3D printers themselves. This category, which also includes many from the maker movement, pertains mainly to the 3D printing process.

Consuming 3D printed products

Users of 3D printed products are only concerned with the products themselves and only very marginally with the processes. They are users of 3D printed products because these are better, more efficient, more customized products but they are not interested in how these products were actually made.

Typical 3D printed consumer products include eyewear frames and footwear products (insoles, midsoles, sandals), as well as sporting equipment and gear. These product categories all leverage 3D printing to offer improved customization and better performances through more efficient product geometries ensuring lightweight and better ergonomic properties. Within this segment, areas such as 3D printed footwear, 3D printed eyewear and 3D printed sportswear are embracing AM technologies at a very rapid pace, driven by higher productivity polymer AM systems.

3D printing has been used to both develop and produce a number of consumer sporting equipment products and parts. These include snowboarding bindings, goggles, ski boots, golf clubs, professional football helmets and several types of entire bicycles (and eBikes such as this one from Arevo) and bicycle parts. Carbon’s technology, in particular, is now being used to 3D print bike saddles, by fizik and Specialized among others.

Another typical consumer product segment using 3D printing at various levels is jewelry. In this case, 3D printing is primarily used for indirect production via lost wax casting manufacturing, enabling more advanced geometries with traditional materials. The next generation of jewelry products are using additive manufacturing as a direct manufacturing tool for polymers as well as ceramics and direct precious metal 3D printing.

Consuming the 3D printing process

This category of adopters was created when the RepRap movement made many of the technologies and processes necessary to build 3D printers available to everyone through open source sharing of information. Focusing primarily on filament extrusion and – in minor part – on DLP stereolithographic technologies, this movement led to a further, drastic reduction in the price of some 3D printers, taking it from the $5,000 professional and prosumer cost level to well below $1,000. Now there are very efficient consumer systems for both filament and resin 3D printing, from Chinese manufacturers such as Creality and Anycubic, running as low as $200.

Early RepRap adopters and developers often evolved their expertise thus creating a new business segment for affordable desktop 3D printers. This trend was – and continues to be – driven by the Maker movement, which is largely made up of amateur engineers and artists who have embraced digital manufacturing technologies and make things—even impressively large and detailed things—for the sake of making.

While in many cases this passion for making leads to failures or products that prove to be useless on unattainable, there is no doubt that the maker movement and amateur 3D printing adoption has been instrumental in raising global awareness around the use of these technologies, proving much more effective—to this day—than initiatives promoted by governments and large corporations.

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