3D Printing Part Deux

Here’s the follow-up to my 3D printing rant from last week (click here to see last week’s post).

This video demonstrates all the misleading hype about 3D printers the tech industry permeates into our social media.

A few things the 3D printing revolution will be good for:

Product Development – No surprise here since this is what it’s intended purpose is. The only reason the tech industry is putting out this propaganda is to sell 3D printers. Just like everyone needs a Thneed, we’re sold on the fact we’ll all need a 3D printer. The reality is lower cost printers are a boon to small businesses and institutions who are developing new products. The technology speeds the process to get unique products to market. But like any tool they are not and should not be the only means for making prototypes.

Replacement Parts – This is a primary (only?) area where 3D printers will revolutionize how we live. If you’re so inclined to have a printer at home you can have product companies send you a file to print your replacement part. This assumes that the company has the foresight to set up this service, and you know what how to install the part. The company can profit by selling you the print file (can be a one time use file). You win as a consumer because you have every part available to you. One major caveat: the products need to be designed for disassembly and repair. Can’t afford or don’t want a printer?….

Hardware Stores – Off the top of my head this is the main type of retailer that better get on the 3D printer bandwagon. They could, and should, still sell all the usual stuff but wouldn’t it be awesome if they had a 3D printer to print out that gear for my washing machine, or a replacement for the cracked housing on my stapler. It could be a whole new avenue for profit and service. We’ll be more than happy to design an in store printer environment by the way, if everyone promises to stop printing yoda heads to demonstrate the power of 3D printing.

User Interface Design – One of the only ways they’ll get 3D printers in the homes of the masses is if the user interface (U/I) is vastly improved. Currently most of our CAD software is designed by U/I techs and engineers with seemingly little regard for making things usable or intuitive. If we’re all going to design our own products from now on, and apparently we are, then we sure as heck better understand how to use the software and hardware. I’ve been using CAD for 20 years and still don’t fully understand how all the tools work, and I certainly couldn’t model something as complex as a woman’s shoe in CAD (I’d have to use a pen and paper like some sort of Neanderthal). The point is user interface design has a long way to go – putting more technology in the hands of the masses will necessitate better design.

Art & Biomimicry – This is kind of the catch-all but coupling 3D printing with 3D scanning technology opens whole new vistas for turning what man can conjure into new realities. Artists willing to take a plunge into the steep learning curve can churn out really awesome sculptures and artwork. Also we can learn from nature and create structures that aren’t easily resolved by current manufacturing methods. For example taking the strength of a skeleton and manufacturing it as a framework in a building or product. Yeah, 3D printers are really freaking good at doing that.

Space -Yes! This is where we need 3D printers. Load up our Mars spacecraft with at least three printers – one plastic, one metal and one with goo that makes human cells or tomatoes. Because space is one place where you need to build parts on site, on demand. I don’t live in space, so I’ll just goto Wal-Mart.

Some question marks I have:

On-Demand Manufacturing – I get it, you store bytes instead of products on shelves. But I need someone to start showing me parts and products that really can be used. Show me the true costs involved. I abhor tooling, but I also understand the advantages injection molding, metal fabrication and other manufacturing processes have based on quantities. On-demand manufacturing may not be right for your product or business.

Community – One of the selling points is that we’ll make all our stuff by 3D printing. We won’t need designers, factories, shipping companies…you name it, anymore. Um, if no one works in mass production anymore, what are they going to do? What happens to the communities that depend on manufacturing to be able to flourish? Okay, this is an extreme example but just because we can self provide doesn’t mean we should. On the surface every new technology looks like it will save us. What we need to do is focus on community instead of the latest social media darling.

Role Of Designers – What will making everyone a designer do for design? Why should I hire a designer when I can just do it myself? I not sure where things will land but I know design is tougher than most people think it is. Maybe the advent of manufacturing democracy will mean more people will need design services. Maybe 3D printers will force my hand and nix my value as a designer. I don’t know.

More Stuff – The advent of 3D printing for the masses doesn’t solve the social problems associated with consumerism. It says we still need stuff, we just don’t need the system to produce it for us. Well I think that’s a pretty narrow viewpoint of stuff and the system that produces stuff. We should value material and human craftsmanship. The ease of self manufacturing also makes it easier to make and consume products that may not be entirely thought out, in an unregulated environment. 3D printing for the masses, as it is sold in the articles and videos disconnects us from the earth and society as a whole.

With mass production if we needed 10,000 cups we had one machine making them. Now with the 3D printer revolution we need 10,000 cups we need 10,000 machines plugged into every house making them singularly.

I don’t see how that is progress.

 

What we need to do

Start valuing ecology, humanity and economy. Understand the impact design has on all three. Read ‘Cradle-to-Cradle‘ when you get a chance. It talks about fundamentally designing systems and products to be nurturing to what we really need as a planet.

3D printing challenges the status quo, so for that fact alone I applaud it. But we need to temper all of the media glamor with a dose of logic and understanding of the pros and cons of the tool.

And know that it’s you and I that will change the world. 3D printers will just help make our job a little easier.

 

Here’s a good Newsweek article on the topic.

Thoughts?

Where am I off base?

What do you agree with?

What can you expound upon?

Share in comments below.

-Chris

Chris Weigand is president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC – a full service retail design firm. Visit us at http://www.chrisweiganddesign.com for more information. And no we don’t have a 3D printer yet but would really like one someday.

 

 

Speed Wars May Trump Price Wars

“How Quickly I Can Get” May Be The New “Low Price”

I'm fine with it if they can get me headphones by 4pm today. image borrowed from amazon.com (we aren't affiliated with amazon, in case you were wondering.)

I’m fine with it if they can get me headphones by 4pm today.
image borrowed from amazon.com
(we aren’t affiliated with amazon, in case you were wondering.)

I read this article on the supply challenges of omnichannel retailing today.

While I’m no supply chain expert, I am a well-educated consumer, and have been known to dabble in retail design here and there. I find it a really exciting time for retailing as old models of doing business are being challenged and consumers are finally being empowered. Retailers and big companies are on the ropes, landed there by extremely fickle and budget conscious consumers, who require instantaneous gratification. (This is my theory at least).

This is my initial response (below) to the article, when posted on an online social media site. And I just wanted to follow-up with an example and a couple other comments, thoughts.

 

“I wonder if the day will come when the speed at which I can have something in hand will trump price as a consumer. It may even be here already.

Omnichannel offerings have basically leveled the playing field for consumers – if there is a product out there then I can most certainly find it in-store or online. So that lever is set. Next everyone is price matching – that lever is set. Oh look, here is the accessibility lever – when can I have it?

Amazon is working towards same day delivery. Retail stores since the dawn of time have provided same day delivery (i.e. I drive to the store and take it home) of in stock items.

The challenge for brick and mortar is to get me (consumer) what I want if they sell it, but don’t have it in stock on site…if they don’t sell it in the first place it’s a moot point.

So let’s say I’m Target, Wal-Mart or your store of choice and I offer 10 million products online, and a relative handful in stores. As a consumer, in your store, I need to know #1) what you can sell me both here and online and #2) how quickly I can get it. I’m just going to assume the price is right because the retailer is constantly battling to provide the best price – price is almost irrelevant in 2014, at least as far as our brave new world of retailing is concerned.

Right now physical retailers struggle with: communicating the entire breadth of their offering, making it easier for consumers to “showroom” in their own store and order online, and let consumers know how quickly they can get something delivered if they can’t take it home right there and then.

We will see all kinds of retailers leap frogging each other as they solve for this complex, yet pretty simple problem of speed to consumer. It will require them to rethink their supply chain and business philosophy a fair bit. Those who are willing and able will flourish. Those who won’t or can’t will mercifully be saved from having to service consumers ever again.

Very exciting.”

 

As you read further into the article, one thought I have is, maybe companies like Wal-Mart or any other large consumer product company have gotten too big – they may not be able to adjust quickly enough or at all. I don’t know. But the thought has crossed my mind. From the article:

“Durable goods retailers’ biggest concern is that marketing promotions bring about unintended consequences to their supply chain…Instead, durable goods retailers are increasingly becoming entrenched in a race to the bottom–pumping out promotions and price changes far more frequently than they should. Their model was never built to support a heavy promotional cycle, and as a result, even their supply chain is being affected by this hyper-promotional behavior.”

 

“Inventory accuracy is a prerequisite to any of these tasks, and retailers just don’t yet have the confidence in that inventory data to be effective.”

 

Maybe smaller enterprises that are more agile will be able to better serve their customers. Though their narrow product offering is their biggest challenge.

The key is for retailers to understand the playing field and understand what they can and can’t do.

Small retailers need to know their customers and attract them to their physical and online store from around the world. They must deliver exemplary customer service, story, brand and product that customers can not or will not get anywhere else. every aspect of their brand must sing at every consumer touch point.

Large retailers need to re-write their play book and stop being distracted by promotions and pricing. They need to outwit online retailers and take new innovative risks whilst shoring up their brand. Simplifying the process, every process, won’t hurt either.

Low prices are ubiquitous. And not all consumers care solely about price. It’s just not as much a selling point as the economy picks up, people buy less stuff (because they don’t want it or can’t afford it), and people start to challenge the push-pull model of consumerism.

Already speed, quality and brand are passing price in importance in my opinion.

Ultimately as a retailer it’s always about selling stuff. Don’t over think it, ditch the old school way of doing business and stop running scared. Work smarter, not harder, like the cliché says.

Headphone Shopping Example

We’ll keep an eye on things and expound upon things with additional thoughts in the future hopefully. Meanwhile here’s my one example from shopping earlier today.

My son needs headphones for Kindergarten next week. Apparently they need them to listen to the computer during class time. Cool. Sounds good to me. Only guidelines are no ear buds, and no need to buy $400 headphones. So what we need is something inexpensive but not cheap. I’m thinking something like the headphones all of us who are of a certain age got with our Walkman’s in the 80’s. Well we went to the local big box store. The only thing they had were one set of headphones that weren’t buds or $400 fancy headphones. That’s fine, but they were slightly bulky looking; the headphones get dumped in a bin at school so the smaller the better. And the price as $22 so that didn’t sway the decision either way.

Most people would have bought them and been fine. Well we now are going to cross shop two other stores. What could have been a 5 minute trip has turned into a two-day affair.

The point is the shopping experience wasn’t tailored to today’s realities and this opened up the opportunity for an anal retentive consumer like me to go shop elsewhere – I know perfection exists and I will find it. Let’s say most consumers aren’t insane like me; still how many did the retailer potentially lose because of a middling retail experience.

I looked online: they list 143 headphones available in store. We saw one set that came close (and we’ll probably buy eventually). If there were 142 other headphones sets I wouldn’t know because they were scattered in four different areas. The store lists 453 headphones available online. Wow. I guarantee even I could find a suitable pair from that retailer.

But the in-store experience did the retailer no favors.

We need to be able to showroom in stores.

Here’s a pretty good example. I’m sure there are more.

Retailers do this:

  1. make it easy for consumers to find the items they’re looking for in store and online
  2. communicate online and in store selection, especially communicate it in store – leave nothing to chance or customers will walk out and check next door
  3. streamline your supply chain to win the battle of speed to consumer and take care of your customers

Lastly, keep in mind, shopping situations vary. As a retailer understand all of your customers. If your supply chain is got its stuff together and is speedy you products may even be able to beat your customer’s home.

What do you think, on to something here or delusional?

How important do you think speed to consumer is?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below

-Chris Weigand

Chris Weigand Design, LLC is a full service retail and brand consultation firm. We love to shop, love to buy and love to design. Contact us today to talk about how we can bring creativity, simplicity and a new perspective to your retail stores. http://www.chrisweiganddesign.com or 330-858-8926

 

Stop Hyping 3D Printing

Seriously guys and gals, enough with all the articles on 3D printing. The jaded side of me has been wanting to write this post for some time now. But I wanted to do a little research first (very little as it turns out….in fact I’m researching as I write). During my first cup of coffee I came up with this article about a cool, hip new start-up.

Cool headphone store.

“One thing you can’t do at [this] retail location — at least at first — is actually try on a pair of its headphones. “

But at least they have a 3D printer.

“I’m still waiting for my pair of earbuds to get printed”

Oh….

Well, no matter. It seems everyone knows about and is getting a 3D printer these days. They are going to revolutionize retail, shipping, manufacturing….every aspect of our lives. The internet says so!

Well, wade through all the hype (with your 3D printed oar of course) and the reality is quite different in my opinion. I don’t think 3D printing is as revolutionary as everyone thinks it is, or at least not in the ways they’re thinking.

Here are my thoughts. Take a read while I pour another cup of coffee (in my Paleolithic-era ceramic mug).

3D Printing Isn’t New

The media makes it out like 3D printing is some new wonderful silver bullet. The reality is prototyping technology has been around for as long as people have been designing and making “stuff”. A really long time ago I was in college, and they had SLA’s and other means of creating parts from big vats of goo and lasers. Then a few years later they started laying down acrylic in rough beads inside a box (hello 3D printing) to make prototype parts. Now they can even make a human ear. This is all well and good, if you’re an industrial designer, engineer or doctor. But for the average marketplace based consumer, retailer, or brand 3D printing is basically irrelevant, and will be for quite some time.

In fairness though, the newfound accessibility of inexpensive 3D printing is pretty cool. Especially for design start-ups and those looking for novelty in store.

If you want to buy us one though, we won't complain. A Objet500 Connex by Stratasys. http://www.stratasys.com/3d-printers/design-series/precision/objet-connex500

If you want to buy us one though, we won’t complain. A Objet500 Connex by Stratasys.
http://www.stratasys.com/3d-printers/design-series/precision/objet-connex500

Home Based 3D Printing Is Nonsensical

Okay, so you shell out a few hundred, or few thousand, dollars and bring home a shiny new 3D printer, plop it down in the basement and you’re ready to never have to go to the store again.

Now what?

You can download some files, from someone who may or may not know anything about design. And print anything you want, as long as it’s most likely plastic and a tchotchke smaller than a loaf of bread.

If you prefer to design your own “stuff” go for it. In all your free time you can learn how to operate the CAD program, and allocate a few days or weeks to actually design something from scratch…

…Or if you value the time you have left on this earth kick it old school by simply going online, click a button to buy and have conventionally-made, anything you want products show up next day on your doorstep (same day with drone delivery). Or you can goto a real store and take real products home instantaneously (pay for them first).

Everyone thinks 3D printers mean we’ll no longer goto stores and manufactures won’t have to ever make anything again. That’s like saying because you can grow a tomato plant, you’ll never have to buy food again and grocery stores will be obsolete.

Even in 5-10 years I don’t think 3D printers will impact the way most of us buy or sell. Not until we can print eyeglasses AND real lenses, or print shoes we’d actually want to wear. Even then people have to be willing to give up their time and money to do it all themselves. Sociologically I don’t believe we as a marketplace are headed to that extreme, but we’ll delve into that another time.

Retail Based 3D Printing Is Just As Silly

The only reason you’d need a 3D printer at the store is for 1) custom fit items or 2)….okay I can’t think of another reason.

Commodity items?

Me: “Hey, I need a fuchsia color light switch cover.”

Random Store Associate: “Okay, there are only twenty-seven people waiting in front of you for their products to print….hold on I need to reboot the system…wait I have to clean the part up. Do you want a sand and coat for $12 more?”

78 minutes later….

Random Store Associate: “Here you go”

Hands over matte pink, rough rectangle of despair, with a little slot in the middle.

Me: “Wait, I forgot to tell you, it was supposed to have two slots”

3D Printed Products Kinda Suck

For all its hype, the reality is that parts made from 3D printers make awful consumer products. The printer spews out a thin line of acrylic or other material, most often plastic though, building up layer by layer whatever it is you want. What you’re left with (assuming you don’t have to “clean up” any supporting material), is a marginal product that is rough. The colors are basic and blocky. Likely it is made of one type of material (plastic), with no electronics, hinges, or other functional features. You basically have a high-tech version of the ashtray your kid could have made you at summer camp.

But without the touching memories.

The fact is modern manufacturing has perfected the art of making useful and desirable products, made from a concert of materials, for the masses. 3D printing will never replace the practice of skilled professionals, craftsmen and equipment manufacturing finished goods. Yes, 3D printing will help those people do their job, but don’t expect a 3D printer to spit out a comprehensive consumer product in your living room anytime soon.

They make parts, not products.

Awe, this is exactly what I wanted. An Xbox One is so overrated. Thanks honey. Image from gizmag.com http://www.gizmag.com/go/2578/

Awe, this is exactly what I wanted. An Xbox One is so overrated. Thanks honey.
Image from gizmag.com
http://www.gizmag.com/go/2578/

3D Printing Can’t Print The Things You Really Need

The only thing I would need a 3D printer for would be for replacement parts.

Once when I was a kid I assembled a foreign made RC car. It was awesome. And on the first test drive I ran it into a tree, breaking a critical nylon front suspension piece, that ultimately was the demise of my RC car. Back then it was impossible to find a replacement part.

That was one time in forty years having a 3D printer would have been life changing.

The truth is, even I don’t want to design my own toys or whatever they want me to design or download and print.  What I want to do is get my work done and then spend time with my family, read, play video games, pet my cat or go drink a beer.

Here’s a list (click link) of 20 keys to happiness. No where does it say “print all of your own stuff with a 3D printer”.

If I need something I will buy it online, or in the store and have it be complete, shiny, new and functional. I will let professionals worry about the design, material selection, testing and manufacturing of the products I buy. Just as I let farmers worry about raising cows and growing soybeans.

And no, I’m not printing myself a new ear.

Unless you’re an artist, and other than super special custom items, or hard to find replacement parts, I see no viable reason why consumers, retailers, or manufacturers would need marketplace based 3D printers. Also remember, we’ve developed a variety of ways to customize things before, so it’s not like we’re suddenly democratized with the advent of 3D printers for the masses.

A human ear being 3D printed. Image from Cornell University Photography, borrowed from CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/03/tech/innovation/3-d-printing-human-organs/)

A human ear being 3D printed. Image from Cornell University Photography, borrowed from CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/03/tech/innovation/3-d-printing-human-organs/)

Conclusion

So please, tone down the 3D printer hype. Let’s go back to living our lives and drinking our coffee from ceramic mugs that we buy from other people.

3D printers make the design and manufacturing process so much easier and quicker it is true. And I love the implications when it comes to tooling avoidance. But stop touting them as revolutionary and empowering for day-in day-out use in store or at home.

The technology isn’t there yet and may never be. Plus even so, will we want to make all this crap ourselves?

At least not until a 3D printer can print a pizza.

Wait…what?

-Chris Weigand

 

P.S. Check out this link for some cool 3D printed items.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic in the comments below.

How will the technology affect your business?

How will it affect your home life?

Is it hype or the real deal? 

Chris Weigand is an artist, industrial designer and President of Chris Weigand Design, LLC – a full service retail design consultancy. He doesn’t always bemoan technology, but he does take a logical and calculated look at the world around him. When he’s not challenging the status quo he spends his free time using nature’s 3D printers to make tomatoes, herbs and honey in his yard.

Visit our website at http://www.chrisweiganddesign.com or call Chris at 330.858.8926 to find out how we can help you with your branding and retail design needs.

Visit Small Towns To Uncover Retail Gems

Look in any retail design trade publication and you’re presented with glamorous photographs of exotic retail locations sprinkled across the world’s largest metro areas. From big chains to small boutiques, seemingly if you want to see where it’s at in terms of retail design you’d better head downtown, or hop on a plane.

A recent vacation reminded me that you don’t have to travel to the big city to experience the best of retail. We spent our mid-summer family holiday in the town of Ellicottville in western New York state. It’s an international ski town that I’ve personally visited for the better part of thirty years; watching it adapt, evolve and grow. Despite the focus on winter, when the town is flooded by winter sport lovers from across the region (and Canada), it has grown into a vibrant summer scene also. And any time we’re in town we make a point of visiting the stores that line its main streets.

The village (part of the town by the same name) is very quaint and devoid of national chains. It’s a paradise for viewing independent retail up close and personal. Stores have come and gone through the years but vacancy isn’t too high right now so it is a great time to visit. There are several new stores to supplement the old standbys.

I took the time to visit most of the stores, and even talked to a few of the merchants to learn more about their awesome retail spaces. I suspect many of them are designing the stores themselves, and exciting those designs by the sweat of their own brow (one merchant said as much). Whether they do the work themselves, or hire someone (hint, hint) the key is knowing their brand and having that communicated in every way. Most of the stores we visited did this exceedingly well. As a retail designer I didn’t see much I would have done differently, and many things that I found beyond delight as a designer, and shopper.

Walking through the stores reminded me of how much I love shopping and retail environments. It made for a fun morning. An experience that can’t be replicated online. Nor is it easily translatable to mass retail.

So before you book your design team trip to New York City, San Francisco, London or wherever it is you go, consider driving through the countryside closer to home. There are a lot of great independent retailers creating really awesome retail experiences right in front of us.

Where are your favorite hole in the wall retail design haunts? Share in the comments below after enjoying the photos of Ellicottville.

 

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a full service professional retail design and branding consultancy. We work with companies of all sizes to design compelling design solutions that connect with customers. We love shopping, we love going out to stores and seeing what merchants are doing. We enjoy creating really awesome solutions for our clients. Contact us today at 330.858.8926 to find out how we can make your store a place that people love to shop.