Like many people I'm excited about the potential of the rapid manufacturing technique known as 3D printing. From solving some basic needs in humanitarian crisis situations to quick to market products, this is a manufacturing revolution which will see objects becoming software.
There are so many exciting stories unfolding in this area, from 3D printed bikes to human kidneys, custom guitars and even 3D printed houses. It looks like futuristic technology you'd see in Star Trek but this will soon be coming to a home near you.
This innovative technology will challenge a number of big brands we all know and love to innovate or be eliminated. There are loads of products good or bad, depending on your views, which will make use of this technology, and for me this is a very exciting time as it will:
The music industry couldn't legislate or stop the power of the internet for easy access to downloading free music, instead of innovating they stood still to fight against it.
We all know what happened to them. Anyone remember buying CD's recently? HMV is a cautionary tale for the digital age and the inevitable power of technological advancement. Their chairman back in the late 90's was quoted as saying that the internet will not challenge their business, 12 years later and they're gone.
How about a more extreme example? Guns anyone? Hopefully not, but 3D printed guns exist. Frightening, yes? A reason to fight the technology – no. If anything, it's proof that behaviours have to change in the face of its power.
The same way music became software, everyday objects will become software
You can't turn off progress, you instead have to find positive ways to harness it. Otherwise, you face the HMV digital cliff. Everyday products are going to face the same challenges the music industry faced. The same way music became software, everyday objects will become software. Simply find the object you want, click print and enjoy.
So the challenge is how to work with this emerging technology to the benefit of your brand instead of fighting against it.
Might sound crazy to suggest such a thing but imagine being able to flick through an array of homeware products online and being able to produce the products yourself. Wouldn't that be a challenge to IKEA?
So how might IKEA innovate to meet this potential challenge head on.
IKEA could learn from sites such as Shapeways who are leading the way by using 3D printing to encourage the return of craftsmanship, giving consumers access to a wider range of styles and designers which caters for niche tastes as well as the masses.
This could then become a point of real difference and provide an alternative revenue stream in the face of generic copies of their designs that would otherwise become a threat in a sales environment that no longer required the production of inventory as a barrier to entry.
If they don't embrace the chance to use design and craftsmanship, then why would I pay for something I could easily search for and download for free as alternative suppliers have copied and made their designs open source.
With product innovation comes the role communications will play in this new technology. There are loads of ways into this but here are a few ideas:
In short term you'll see this technology used to deliver unique brand experiences as part of campaigns whereby people will get bespoke campaign objects created for them. Be it the characters from ads or perhaps for a cereal brand your very own individual spoon with your child's name and favorite comic character on it.
3D Printer technology might be 5-10 years off before it's in everyone's home (MakerBot sell some great ones if you want get started), however expect to hear alot more about this as it revolutionises and solves problems we couldn't deal with before.
Speaking of which, below are some examples of how there is also a very human side to all of this.
Written by Dermot O'Shea / Digital Architect
I head up Digital Strategy, Content and Social in RMG
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