5 Ways 3D Printing Can Benefit the Consumer Goods Industry (2020 Update)

08 June 2018
3D printing in the consumer goods industry

Plus, examples of the technology in action.
 

Did you know that 76 per cent of consumer goods companies are already using 3D printing? 
 
Consumer goods companies are taking the plunge into 3D printing, to provide more customer-centric services and products cost-effectively. 
 
With 3D printing increasingly being adopted by consumer brands, we dive into the benefits of the technology and explore how six consumer goods segments are using 3D printing today. 
 

5 Benefits of 3D printing for consumer goods companies 

 

1. Accelerated development cycles 

 
3D printing makes it possible to produce prototypes much faster than with traditional manufacturing techniques, like CNC. 
 
In one example, 3D printing has helped a consumer packaging company, Toly, to shrink the development time from months to days. With CNC, which the company used for prototypes before 3D printing, the time from a design to a prototype could take up to 3 weeks. Then, imagine how much time it would take if the company wanted to make three or more iterations.  
 
3D printing accelerates the process of evaluating design concepts and making any changes, enabling Toly to produce prototypes overnight and testing the next day.
 
One technology consumer brands adopt, as part of the design validation phase, is multi-material 3D printing. This technology allows them to create prototypes with various textures and colours, replicating a final product look and feel.
 

2. Greater design flexibility

 
3D printing allows companies to achieve maximum design freedom when making complex geometries, impossible to manufacture by conventional processes.
 
The ability to produce complex features has already led to innovative products, such as shoe midsoles with incorporated lattice structures or bike parts, optimised for strength and durability.
 

3. Customisation

 
From personalised headphones to custom footwear, customisation is a term on everyone’s lips. 
 
Despite the hype, however, customisation remains one of the major benefits of 3D printing for consumer goods.
 
3D printing creates new customisable possibilities because it doesn’t require expensive tooling changes based on individual specifications. 
 
In 3D printing, the design data is transferred to a 3D printer, without the need for any tools, so the only tool a manufacturer is using is the machine itself. 
 
This also means that the complexity that comes with customisation doesn’t incur additional costs. A 3D printer takes no more time, energy, or material to manufacture a complex shape than a simple one, and zero tooling means printing a variety of designs requires no extra production costs.
 

4. Tool manufacturing

 
The production of tools and injection moulds can also benefit from 3D printing. Thirty-nine per cent of consumer products companies, surveyed by EY, sees the value of enhancing traditional manufacturing with 3D-printed tools. 
 
For example, Unilever uses 3D printing for injection moulding tools, producing prototype parts in the final material for functional and consumer tests. Using the technology for moulds helps the company cut lead times for prototypes by 40 per cent.
 

Unilever 3D printed injection mold
Unilever 3D- printed injection mould [Image credit: Stratasys]
 

In another example, the Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) is using the latest 3D printing technology to modernise manufacturing at its Whitman manufacturing facility in the UK, where many of its prestige skincare brands, and Jo Malone London fragrances, are produced.
 
When producing Jo Malone London’s 30ml fragrance bottles, for example, new 3D-printed jigs are being used as a quality assurance tool for label alignment on the bottles, saving time and cost.  
 
Thanks to the use of the technology, the company can also design and test new machine parts in hours instead of weeks or months, and for as little as a few dollars per part, rather than thousands of dollars.
 

5. Sustainability

 
The 3D printing process works additively, adding layers of material to produce a part – as opposed to traditional, subtractive manufacturing. Thanks to this process, 3D printing can significantly reduce material waste, thereby making the manufacturing process more sustainable. 
 

>>Read more about sustainability in 3D printing

 
Nike has demonstrated the possibilities of waste reduction: by using 3D printing in its FlyKnit shoes, the company was able to produce up to 60 per cent less waste compared to traditional cut-and-sew methods.
 

Revenues from polymer 3D printing in the consumer goods industry
Revenues from polymer 3D-printed parts in the consumer goods industry [Image credit: SmarTech Analysis]
 

How consumer goods segments are using 3D printing in 2020

 

Footwear

 
The 3D printing opportunity in the footwear industry is enormous: the segment could become the largest 3D-printed consumer product segment within the next decade.
 
Major footwear brands are already exploring the scope of 3D printing for footwear, driven by the desire to create new experiences for their customers. 
 
The reality of today’s consumer landscape is that consumers want personalised experiences. 
 
In response, many footwear companies allow customers to order shoes with a limited amount of customisation, for example, by offering a limited selection of colours. 
 
3D printing, on the other hand, allows companies to unlock a new level of customisation, thanks to the ability to create shoes specifically tailored to the wearer. 
 
One example of this approach in practice is Dr. Scholl’s custom 3D-printed shoe inserts.
 

3d printed inserts
[Image credit: Dr. Scholl’s]
 

Through the partnership with the technology company, Wiivv, Dr. Scholl’s offers a customisation app, which creates an accurate scan of a customer’s feet. To ensure the scan is successful, customers are required to take a few photos of their feet from different angles.
 
The scanning technology within the app will then create custom insoles, based on 400 mapping points from each foot. Through this process, which takes less than 5 minutes, inserts can be designed to ensure a custom fit for each customer.
 
After the 3D design is generated, personalised insoles are 3D-printed and delivered to the customer’s doorstep within 14 days, for $99. Additionally, consumers can use the app to add different designs that suit their personal preferences, to the 3D-printed insole.
 
In addition to personalised insoles, companies like Adidas, Nike, New Balance, are exploring the ways 3D printing can benefit midsole and shoe uppers manufacturing. 
 
Despite the progress, footwear 3D printing revenues make up less than 1 per cent of the global footwear market revenues. 
 
It means the use of 3D printing in footwear remains limited, largely because the technology currently lacks the scalability to accommodate the intensive and high-productivity needs of the shoe industry. 
 
That said, trends in digital manufacturing and the demand for personalised experiences will continue to push footwear brands to further explore 3D printing opportunities and find ways to apply the technology at scale. 
 

Jewellery and accessories

 
The value of precious metals for AM is expected to reach $1.8 billion globally by 2028, according to SmarTech Analysis. With this in mind, jewellery, accessories and decorative objects may well be some of the most successful applications of 3D printing within the consumer goods industry. 
 
Within these segments, 3D printing can be used for both direct and indirect manufacturing applications. Indirect manufacturing involves the use of 3D printing to create a wax mould, which is then used in wax-casting. This process saves time, energy and high costs associated with carving models by hand.
 

wax casting
3D-printed casting patterns for rings personalised with the fingerprint design [Image credit: Vowsmith]
 

As an example, Canadian jewellery company, Vowsmith – which specialises in customised rings – was able to cut its production and delivery times by 50%, by integrating 3D printers for wax mould production. In a single print, the company can produce between 35 and 40 personalised ring patterns, ready for casting. 
 
Direct 3D printing with precious metals is also possible, although the number of 3D printing systems capable of processing precious metals remains limited. 
 
Austrian jewellery company BOLTENSTERN has used direct 3D printing to produce jewellery pieces, such as bracelets, earrings, necklaces and cufflinks.
 
In partnership with COOKSONGOLD, a supplier of precious metal powders, BOLTENSTERN used metal powder-based AM technology to create its ‘Embrace’ jewellery collection. According to the jewellery maker, this is the first commercial collection on the market to be directly 3D printed in gold and platinum.
 

Eyewear

 

Hoet COUTURE collection
[Image credit: Hoet Design Studio]
 

3D printing gives eyewear designers more freedom in creating new looks. Designers can experiment with new shapes and textures that would be difficult and, in many cases, economically unviable with traditional techniques.
 
At the same time, the technology enables eyewear brands to provide their customers with more options when it comes to the design of the eyewear frame. Options may include different shapes, colours and textures. 
 
Hoet Design Studio, a Belgian high-end eyewear manufacturer, is one company which has developed an eyewear collection with the help of 3D printing. 
 
The Hoet Couture collection features five models produced using laser-melting technology. A front portion of the glass frame is made of titanium, with a mesh-like geometric structure that could not be made through any technique other than 3D printing. 
 
Although many companies are pioneering eyewear 3D printing, the technology is not yet ready for mass production and is mostly used to manufacture small batches of products. But even with small batches, eyewear brands can differentiate themselves and explore new, largely untapped avenues, like customised 3D-printed eyewear frames. 
 

Bicycle manufacturing

 
3D printing offers a range of unique benefits for bicycle production, which is why a handful of specialised bike manufacturers are already integrating 3D-printed components into their products. 
 
While some companies use 3D printing to lower the cost of traditionally expensive carbon-fibre and titanium bikes, others are experimenting with new shapes to increase bike performance. 
 

Renishaw Atherton Bikes
3D-printed bike frame lugs [Image credit: Renishaw]
 

For example, British bike manufacturing company, Empire Cycles, teamed up with 3D printer manufacturer, Renishaw, to create a topologically-optimised titanium bike frame. Renishaw developed a new frame design that was 33 per cent lighter than the original.
 
Having a lightweight bike offers a range of benefits to a cyclist. Firstly, it enables cyclists to reach faster speeds and ride uphill more easily. Secondly, a lighter bike is more responsive to a rider’s movements⁠ – providing key advantages for competitive cyclists.
 
And while we’re some way off from seeing 3D printing for mass production within the bike industry, it’s clear that more brands will eventually jump on the 3D printing bandwagon, to add value to their bottom line, as well as a customer experience. 
 

Beauty and cosmetics

 

3D_printed_mascara_brush_Chanel
[Image credit: Chanel]
 

3D printing is also finding its way into the beauty industry. French fashion company, Chanel, is one company demonstrating the potential of 3D printing, having launched the world’s first 3D-printed mascara brush in 2018. 
 
The Révolution Volume mascara brush was created using SLS, a technology that uses a laser beam to fuse layers of polyamide powder.
 
With 3D printing, the design of the brush has been optimised – for example, the rough, granular texture improves the adhesion of the mascara to the lashes.
 
Although 3D printing might be new to the cosmetics industry, pioneers like Chanel showcase how the technology could transform the way cosmetic products are manufactured.
 

Consumer Electronics

 
While 3D-printed electronics is still in its infancy, custom electronic enclosures, USB stick cases and keyboards are already a reality. 3D printing can be used to create electronic enclosures with a personalised touch, with complex shapes and various colours, graphics and sizes available.
 
Dutch company, Moogue, has already seen success in this area. Moogue offers an online configurator, allowing customers to customise 3D-printed phone cases by choosing among a wide range of colours, images and patterns.
 

3D printing challenges for the consumer goods industry

 
While consumer goods manufacturers are increasingly recognising the benefits of 3D printing, there are still challenges in implementing the technology.
 
Admittedly, the adoption rates of 3D printing, within the consumer goods industry, are still relatively low, especially when compared to pioneering industries, like aerospace and medical.
 
For most consumer goods companies, implementing a 3D printing production line is not economically viable, at least for now. For one, the production volumes in 3D printing cannot currently compete with the volumes achieved with conventional manufacturing.
 
However, with technologies like Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis, metal binder jetting, and HP’s Multi Jet Fusion, all pushing the boundaries of production speeds and volumes, a commercially scalable production system may well be within the realm of possibility.  
 

Building up a competitive advantage with 3D printing 

 
As 3D printing becomes more scalable, this decade will see more consumer goods companies piloting 3D printing. This will help to identify the applications and products that can benefit most from the technology, enabling companies to introduce it into their production workflows.
 
However, the successful adoption of 3D printing in production will also require consumer goods companies to integrate solutions, like MES software, that help manage the workflow from end to end. 
 
Digital processes, like 3D printing, will need the digital tools that enable you to process more orders and provide visibility over operations, even if they are scattered across multiple sites. 
 
All in all, 3D printing will be one of the key technologies shaping new trends in the consumer goods sector, from pioneering designs to mass customisation. Now is the time for companies to act if they want to spearhead these trends and build up their competitive advantage. 
 

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