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3D Printing Technology Creating a New Dimension for Marketers

Paul Federico

December 11, 2013
Paul Federico

By now you’ve probably heard of 3D printing–the process of making objects from a digital model by using a digital printer. The digital printers now available for home use are about the size of a large coffee maker. There are many types of 3D printers, but the common process to produce a 3D object is what they call an additive process where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes that result in an object. Think of a stack of copy paper. Each sheet of paper takes the form of an object. An object is built from the bottom up, layer by layer. The thinner the layer, the finer and smoother your 3D-object will be reproduced.
There has been much speculation about how 3D printing may become a mass-market item in the future. Manufacturers can offset their manufacturing and capital costs. Consumers will make the products. Stores, warehouses, and shipping are taken out of the equation. This would be a seismic change in how we conduct commerce.

Currently on the market right now, are several variations of additive type printers that are for consumer/home use. Formlabs makes the Form 1 3D printer. It’s what they are calling an end-to-end package that works right out of the box. The demo video on their homepage makes it look as easy to hook up as a paper printer:  In the demo video, we see the casing for a watch being made. The Form 1 will be available in February for about $3,299.

For less money, a company called MakerBot introduced the Digitizer Desktop 3-D Scanner priced at $1,400. It’s about the size of a microwave and lets you create a 3D up to 8 x 8 inches. Get more information here:

Now it’s up to us, as brand strategist, on how to utilize this technology to help our client’s brands. This is totally unchartered waters… or is it?

Here’s what I think should be taken in to consideration for marketers: It is totally customizable and one-to-one. People will be able to create a one-of-a-kind object. It will be attractive to small business types, prototype makers for inventors, artists and craft makers. It will be used to send objects to remote places and the social-economic impact could be significant in the near future. We can help our clients create strategies for customer relations, promotions, and even business operations by incorporating this new technology.

The promotional applications for marketers are still in their infancy. There is still an opportunity to make an impact with the first great 3D imaging promotion.

Here are some notable promotions executed so far:

  • Coca-Cola wanted to introduce its new Mini Bottles in Israel with a 3D printing idea. The brand invited consumers to create tiny digital versions of themselves in a mobile app. A select few of those then won a trip to the Coca-Cola factory, where they were invited to turn their mini-me’s into the real thing via 3D printing.
  • Belgian Insurance provider DVV proved how useful they could be to its customers — particularly the forgetful ones. The company introduced a service called “Key Save,” rolling out next month, which allows customers to scan their keys and save the data on a secure server. Whenever they lose their keys, they can take their data to a 3D printer and create a new one. It’s a boon not just to customers, but to the insurance company as well, since the companies lose money yearly on replacing homeowners’ locks.
  • Nokia has a 3D printing kit available so its customers can print out customized covers for it’s Lumia 820.
  • Volkswagen turned consumers into car designers. “The Polo Principle” campaign invited people to take control online of the automaker’s 3D printer — the one used to create the original Polo model — to design their own versions of their car. Forty of the most creative ideas were 3D printed and exhibited in Copenhagen the following May, after which the designers took their creations home. Even better, the big winner was turned into a real-life Polo. See here:

The time to brainstorm is now. Just about any promotion we can think of will be original.