Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


The Future of Retail has landed.

Thursday 7 March 2013

As co presenter of the 'Future Matters' series with the National Geographic Channel back in 2004, I discussed the idea of Rapid Prototyping or 3D Printing. At that stage, 3D printers were like very large office photocopiers and the better ones had starting prices of around $150,000. I stated that in the near future, people would be able to print out their own dinner sets in their own homes, by simply downloading a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program straight into their printer. A year or so later I presented to the Queensland Supply Chain & Logistics conference and showed them the new face of retail and manufacturing with a few examples. That face has arrived with the latest shift in 3D printing accessibility -

It would be fair to say that not everyone at the conference was pleased with what I said. I'd just shown them that manufacturing could be done in the home (examples were a vase, dinner plates, a high heeled shoe and some toys), that rather than shipping lots of good around, all that would be needed were standard plaster base or plastic base filaments which reduced the need for most retail stores and most trucking.

And then I offered them the out - because prices for units were still too high for most people to have one of their own, the INTERIM step would be 3D printer retail stores (like the photocopying place you go to now) that would have multiple machines in a retail setting, wherein the customer would browse a catalogue, select and pay for their chosen item and come back an hour or two later to pick it up. Minimal storage and warehousing needed; minimal shipping from overseas needed; few trucks on the road needed and almost NO retail shops needed.

And now the new phase of retail and manufacturing is here with the arrival of the Dreambox 3D vending machine. If you don't think the face of retail is going to change, you're simply not paying attention. 3D printing can now deal with multiple materials (fibre, plaster, plastics and metals - oh and of course human skin) and the machines are getting easier to use. The retail model means that manufacturers would only need to 'manufacture' 3D CAD programs. Yes they'd need to do a bit of testing but that's pretty much all. The consumer would create the product at the consumer's end.

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