10 Exciting Ways 3D Printing is Being Used in the Consumer Goods Industry
12 March 2019
3D printing is breathing new life into a variety of consumer products. Fuelling new trends and innovation, the technology is creating exciting opportunities for the future of the consumer goods industry.
The consumer goods industry has long seen the benefits of 3D printing in product design and development thanks to rapid prototyping. However, as 3D printing matures and more materials become available, the consumer goods industry is opening up to the new opportunities the technology offers for direct manufacturing.
To showcase how 3D printing is changing the consumer goods industry, here are just some of the latest feats of consumer innovation that have been achieved thanks to 3D printing.
1. Arevo unveils the first 3D-printed carbon fibre bike
Bike frames made of carbon fibre are becoming increasingly popular as the material’s properties are well-suited to frame construction. The material is strong, durable and lightweight, which makes it a highly sought-after alternative to metal bike frames.
However, carbon fibre frames have two major drawbacks: the material is extremely expensive and the manufacturing process is notoriously labour-intensive.
Silicon Valley startup Arevo is looking to address these issues with its 3D-printed carbon-fibre bike frame. The company has developed a proprietary robotic 3D printing process which uses PEEK filaments, reinforced with continuous carbon fibre. The print head is attached to a six-axis robotic arm and material can be deposited continuously by rotating the robotic arm. This process enables the frame to be made in one piece.
This approach creates a frame uniformly strong in all three dimensions. This feature differentiates Arevo’s technology from traditional filament 3D printing, where 3D-printed parts tend to be anisotropic when first printed, meaning they are not equally strong in all directions.
Thanks to this technology, Arevo says it can produce carbon-fibre bikes at a competitive cost of $300, compared to similar traditionally-manufactured bikes, which have an average price range of between $1000 to $2000.
While Arevo’s bike is still a prototype at this stage, the startup says it plans to move quickly into manufacturing by partnering with existing bike companies, making the bike potentially available to consumers later this year.
3D printing could potentially add a new dimension to the bike manufacturing sector. A handful of specialised bike manufacturers are already exploring the advantages of 3D printing, including stainless steel and titanium frame parts from British company Reynolds and custom bike components from Pinarello’s in-house component brand, MOST.
2. Chanel’s 3D-printed mascara brush
Within the beauty industry, 3D printing is beginning to find its way into mass production. French high fashion brand, Chanel, is one company demonstrating the potential of 3D printing for the industry, having launched the world’s first 3D-printed mascara brush in 2018.
The Révolution Volume mascara brush was created in collaboration with Erpro Group using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), a 3D printing technology that uses a laser beam to fuse together layers of polyamide powder to create a part. Using the technology, Chanel is said to be able to produce up to 50,000 of brushes per day.
3D printing enabled Chanel to iterate the design of the brush through over 100 prototypes, a feat that wouldn’t be possible using traditional moulding techniques.
At a cost of $35, the brush features microcavities, which can absorb a larger amount of mascara than the previous brushes. The benefit? Users of the brush don’t have to re-dip the brush back into the mascara tube to add another coat to their lashes.
Additionally, individual strands of a brush have a granular texture, increasing their surface area and improving the distribution of the mascara on the eyelashes.
The fashion and beauty industry is still only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of exploring the potential of 3D printing. That said, fashion houses and designers are already beginning to experiment with the technology, creating innovative shapes and designs. Additionally, 3D printing is widely used to create exclusive jewellery pieces and accessories.
In many cases, 3D printing in the beauty and fashion industry is still used for luxury products. Yet, Chanel’s example suggests that 3D printing has great potential to expand into the realms of mass production.
3. Carbon and Riddell team up to create 3D-printed helmet liners
Carbon made a splash in 2017 when it announced its partnership with Adidas to produce 3D-printed midsoles for the sportswear brand’s Futurecraft 4D shoes.
Now, the unicorn startup has announced that it has partnered with American football equipment provider, Riddell, to 3D print custom helmet liners.
Using Carbon’s recently unveiled L1 3D printer, the companies have created a customised, 3D-printed helmet liner for Riddell’s SpeedFlex Precision Diamond helmet model. Liners are important elements inside the helmet and designed to protect a head from concussion and injuries.
The liner for each helmet was customised through Riddell’s Precision-Fit head scanning and helmet fitting process.
By leveraging simulation and optimisation techniques, it was possible to make the liner from more than 140,000 individual struts, using impact-resistant elastomer material. The result: a lattice liner capable of reducing impact forces while providing excellent fit and comfort for athletes.
Riddell isn’t the only company to have discovered the benefits of 3D printing for headgear. Earlier this year, London-based technology startup Hexo Helmet launched its custom 3D printed bicycle helmets, made using SLS and nylon material.
Clearly, the ability to tailor specifications to the wearer’s needs — a wearer’s head measurements for example — and create new cellular structures with higher impact resistance and a lighter weight makes 3D printing well-suited for manufacturing helmets and other protective headgear.
4. Dr. Scholl’s produces customised 3D-printed insoles
Dr. Scholl‘s is another large footwear brand reinforcing the trend of mass customisation through 3D printing. Recently, the company partnered with technology company, Wiivv, to make custom 3D-printed inserts.
Using Wiivv Fit Technology, 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 five 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, at a cost of $99. Additionally, consumers can use the app to add different designs to the 3D-printed insole that suit their personal preferences.
This example from Dr. Scholl’s is another example of how 3D printing is making good headway in the footwear industry, not least because it opens the opportunity for cost-effective customisation. Alongside Dr Scholl’s, major footwear giants such as Adidas, Nike, and New Balance are already using the technology for prototyping and direct manufacturing.
With the advancement of 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies, the mass production of custom-fit footwear may become the new norm in the industry sooner rather than later.
5. Specsy’s 3D-printed eyewear
Although it may come as a surprise, 3D-printed eyewear is a rapidly growing application of the technology. According to a recent SmarTech report, 3D printing is set to create a $3 billion opportunity over the next ten years.
One of the key drivers for such an uptake of the technology in this vertical is increased personalisation, particularly when coupled with scanning technologies.
Canadian company, Specsy, is a great example of how eyewear companies can harness 3D printing to create one-of-a-kind eyewear.
Specsy provides eyecare professionals with a retail-ready app that uses n augmented reality and 3D scanning technologies. Its cloud-based platform allows opticians to design custom frames in stores. The app uses facial 3D scans to enable patients to design frames on a live image of their face.
Once the design is confirmed, the company manufactures frames with the help of a number of in-house multi-colour 3D printers. The printing process takes about 8 hours, after which the frames spend three days going through assembly and hand inspection.
With this approach, optical professionals have the opportunity to offer a truly custom frame, tailored to the patient’s aesthetic preferences and specifications.
Going forward, Specsy has its eyes set on offering custom metal frames in addition to the plastic frames the company currently provides.
While Specsy is just one example, its custom digital eyewear platform offers a glimpse into how the technology will revolutionise the optical field by removing any restrictions in the size, form, style and fit of glass frames.
6. UrbanAlps’ announces ‘the first metal 3D-printed Stealth key’
What role will 3D printing play in the world of mechanical security solutions? While 3D printing with polymers has long been used for manufacturing consumer products, metal 3D printing is only just finding its way into the consumer market.
UrbanAlps is a Swiss company that specialises in high-tech security solutions in the mechanical lock and key sector. UrbanAlps has recently taken metal 3D printing closer to consumers with its unique, patented Stealth Key — which it says is the world’s first metal 3D-printed key.
The company recently closed a $2.5 million series A financing round in February, enabling it to forge ahead with the production of its key and lock system in.
The key was designed in the company’s advanced engineering laboratory in Zürich, which employs cutting-edge metal 3D printing techniques like Selective Laser Melting (SLM). By harnessing SLM and titanium powders, the firm is able to create a batch of complex, one-of-a-kind keys with a high level of key duplication security.
The Stealth Key system consists of a mechanical key and a lock. The sophisticated design and form of the key cover the unlocking mechanism, ensuring that it is hidden inside. This hidden internal coding makes the key impossible to scan and copy.
The key also features a complementary cylinder, which is able to read the internal bittings of the key and open the lock. The cylinder is resistant against cutting, drilling, sawing and high-temperature torches.
Alongside the security elements, UrbanAlps also has the customisation aspect covered. Customers can choose between two sizes of the key and six colour options for the keycaps, as well as add personal logo engravings.
A pair of Stealth Keys and a cylinder lock mechanism costs around $200 – which may not the cheapest option out there. However, with the added security it brings, the Stealth Key may become a new industry standard in security.
7. DEEPTIME’s audio set 3D printed from sand
“We make sound out of sand” is the slogan from DEEPTIME, a Czech design studio that specialises in audio products. Notably, the company has recently unveiled the first commercially available audio set, of which the speakers have been 3D-printed from sand.
Binder Jetting technology was integral to the design of the speakers and its sand enclosures. The innovative use of this technology allows the enclosures to be made in a single piece, creating a smooth, organically looking shape without any visible splits, lines or bolts.
All of the audio system’s components, including the electronics, control rings and connectors, are custom manufactured and designed by DEEPTIME – which partly explains a high price tag of €3141.59 ($3,562.72) for the set.
However, audiophiles will appreciate the organic shapes of the speakers that have been designed to enhance the sound quality.
Similarly, we’ve also seen the Aleph1 project exploring the possibilities of 3D printing for the design of speakers. However, instead of binder jetting, designer Boaz Dekel used material jetting to produce a spiral-looking design of a speaker, not dissimilar to DEEPTIME’s system.
While both use cases demonstrate an innovative application of 3D printing, it’s unlikely that the technology will move beyond luxury and limited-edition audio sets any time soon.
That said, the examples above highlight that 3D printing is capable of pushing the boundaries of conventional audioset designs. In future, we’ll see more designers introducing their take on 3D printed speakers, making intricately shaped speakers a part of our everyday lives.
8. SmileDirectClub 3D prints dental aligners
SmileDirectClub is a US startup founded in 2014 with the goal of providing a more cost-effective solution to clear aligners — transparent, plastic orthodontic devices used to adjust teeth.
The company chose 3D printing as an affordable way to manufacture custom invisible aligners, using BPA-free plastics.
The 3D printing process begins with customers taking mouldings of their own teeth using a home impression kit, which they then mail back along with some digitally uploaded photos. SmileDirectClub sends these to a dental professional who will create a retainer plan. Once confirmed, the company 3D prints and sends the customer their set of aligners.
This results in aligners that are much cheaper — in this case, 60% cheaper than traditional invisible aligners, according to SmileDirectClub.
SmileDirectClub says it works with a network of more than 225 licensed dentists and orthodontists that help to guide the process. While it’s argued that such remote orthodontic care may carry some risks, SmileDirectClub has had an enormous success, with more than 300,000 people already benefited from a more affordable teeth-straightening solution.
9. Custom 3D-printed razor handles by Gillette
The reality of today’s consumer landscape is that consumers are demanding customised, personalised experiences. In response, an increasing number of consumer companies are recognising the value of 3D printing in making mass customisation a reality.
Personal care brand, Gillette, is one such example, having recently launched its Razor Maker™ platform.
Through this project, Gillette aims to give its customers razors that best suit their budget, look, colour and style.
Gillette is piloting the platform in partnership with desktop 3D printer manufacturer, Formlabs. Customers can choose from 48 design options to order customised shaver handles, which will be produced using Stereolithography (SLA) and shipped within 2-3 weeks. With SLA, liquid resins are cured by a UV light, creating solid objects with a smooth and detailed look.
For the mass customisation of Gillette’s razor handles, 3D printing offers a range of benefits. First and foremost, there is no upfront investment in tooling, as the technology requires only a digital 3D file and a 3D printer to produce a batch of handles. This makes the low-volume production of complex designs cost-effective. At the same time, the design freedom afforded by 3D printing allows consumers to enjoy handles that are entirely personalised.
10. MINI’s customisation app offers 3D-printed accessories for customers
MINI, the British automotive marque of BMW, launched a 3D printing customisation service, MINI Yours Customised, for its customers in 2018.
Through this service, customers can choose from a list of different patterns and finishes, add text, or pick from a small selection of cityscapes to customise car parts such as door handles or parts of the side plate.
The customised designs of components are then 3D printed on demand by MINI and can also be painted in colours, including white, red, black and silver.
To manufacture the parts, MINI uses professional 3D printing facilities, available through BMW’s strategic partnerships with companies like Carbon, EOS and HP. Following the submission of the required design, the customised parts are ready within four weeks.
Currently, MINI is pioneering the field of using 3D printing for car customisation. In future, we’ll likely see more of other car manufacturers launching the customisation projects, providing customers with greater freedom in how their vehicles will look.
Customise and innovate with 3D printing
In the consumer goods industry, manufacturers are always on the lookout for ways to provide more customer-centric services and products cost-effectively. 3D printing is a vital technology in making this opportunity a reality.
The technology is making it possible to develop innovative, new consumer products that would otherwise be unfeasible with traditional manufacturing approaches and business models. Companies can innovate faster, experiment with novel designs and satisfy customer needs for personalisation.
With such a tremendous scope of possibilities, 3D printing is definitely to become a mainstay technology in the industry, heralding a new era of custom-created, one-of-a-kind consumer products.