3D printing is starting to surf a wave that could take it from a specialist manufacturing process to household product. The price of machines is coming down and the array of objects that can be created is going up, but it's not yet clear exactly how this potential will be realized in the consumer marketplace. One possible pathway is being explored by Fujifilm: introduce 3D printers using the established "kiosk" model that's been so successful for digital photo printing.
We spoke to Fujifilm Australia's Michael Mostyn at The Digital Show in Melbourne, where the company was gauging the reaction to the idea of introducing 3D printing kiosks for personalized gifts.
"What we're suggesting is that utilizing existing infrastructure, instead of just limiting it to photo gifting products, what if we are able to have a number of predetermined models and provide customers with a personalized 3D gift shop," says Mostyn.
The machine on show at the Fujifim stand was on loan from 3D Systems.
Fujifilm is considering the possibility of making the printers themselves available for consumers to purchase and launch their own DIY projects, but there are no firm details on this venture as yet, and no distribution agreements are in place with 3D Systems or any other manufacturer.
The point here is the business model. Printers similar to the one on display start at around US$3,500 and in the 3D printing world there are of course different machines for different tasks. Additionally, 3D models made from thermo-plastic, materials like silver, gold, ceramics and stainless steel can be used in the 3D printing process, but few DIYers will want to buy a new machine each time they want to use a different material.
Under the "kiosk" model floated by Fujifilm, a range of physical objects would be available for personalization. The catalog of available objects would be rotated to provide a bit of variety, but while some retailers may end up with a 3D printer in store, initially these objects are unlikely be created before your eyes - like canvas prints offered by retailers, they would be produced off-site and the customer would need to return to the store to collect their order.
Fujifilm Australia hasn't released any costings or a time frame for any possible roll-out, but online versions of this approach have seen millions of 3D objects produced in recent years, and leveraging the existing kiosk infrastructure to expand the reach of this process makes sense. And it's just the start for what could become a huge market for much more than personalized 3D giftware - auto-parts, hardware, clothing ... the possibilities really do seem endless.
"This lends itself to a whole range of things - particularly for parts," says Mostyn. "The longer term goal is to be able to give people the opportunity to create a whole range of different things and have access to the technology that has traditionally been for professionals."