What if you could walk into a shop, punch the details of your ideal product onto a touch screen and then create it, exactly to your wishes, right there in the store? Such a possibility would alter the experience of shopping completely.
With the factory and the retail outlet housed in the same location, the roles of both the customer and vendor change radically. The days of shop owners stocking their storerooms with bulk-bought products that they reckoned their customers may want would be over. Buyers would choose and create their own, ideal items right there in the store.
While this possibility is by no means near, nor may it ever truly be possible, certain innovations are making it more and more feasible. For example, this week, AlphaLab Gear start-up PieceMaker Technologies announced its plans to install 3D printing kiosks in American toy stores that will allow customers to customise and print affordable products in minutes.
The user walks up to the kiosk, picks a model from a menu of pre-tested designs already on the system, plays with its shape, chooses a theme, picks the colour and adds any personal message they wish. Then, they push the print button.
Less than 20 minutes later, the product is printed and ready to go. The simplicity, affordability and, perhaps most of all, customisability of the process could well attract both impulse and repeat purchases.
The kiosk itself is made from a solid metal frame, with an enclosed body, lightweight carriage, dual print head, heated print bed, touch screen and a 3D printer. Specification-wise, it’s impressive, with a 7” x 7” x 7” build envelope, a 0.35mm nozzle diameter and USB/ SD card connectivity. The system is equipped with Piece-it! software, which simplifies the process of editing and fabricating 3D models effectively.
PieceMaker will also provide every retailer that installs one of these kiosks with an hour long training session for its workforce, a monthly tune-up and an annual service. It’s already pre-selling the system plus software for $1,299 on its website and wants to pilot the first batch of kiosks in April of this year, making this a major ‘watch-this-space’ story for the first quarter of 2014.