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What’s Next For 3D Printing

3D printing has been lauded as the future of manufacturing, construction, medicine, food, and retail—many say it will change the world. But to some it has also felt somewhat like a buzzword to date, one that has a lot of tech-savvy insiders excited and talking yet might not be a realistic part of consumers’ lives— now that tide is beginning to change. Awareness of 3D printing is steadily rising among Millennials: today, 56% told us they know what a 3D printer is. At the same time, big brands and small startups are beginning to see the potential of 3D printing technology as both a production means and as an actual product.

3D printing has the advantage of being extremely appealing to the DIY, maker culture segment of Millennials—which is a significant group. 69% of Millennials wish they could create a new product, and 81% of Millennials would be interested in helping a brand or company design a new product. As we’ve said before, they have a desire to play an active role in creating products, partially for the satisfaction of making it their own. Now we’re seeing both established brands and new innovators experiment with how 3D tech can be integrated into their products and marketing. Oreo made waves at SXSW with their Twitter-powered 3D printing vending machines at this year’s festival. Attendees lined up to print 3D Oreos in flavors based on trending Twitter topics, which took two minutes for the machine to print. The vending machines are reportedly going to tour the world now that SXSW is over, and will provide ongoing experiential marketing for the brand. When we asked Millennials ages 13-24 if they would like to see the Oreo 3D printing vending machine from SXSW in their grocery stores, 60% said they would. Here are three more brands and startups that are finding ways to bring 3D printing into consumers’ worlds and homes, and could serve as inspiration for the next stage of 3D print mainstreaming: 

Disney Toy Printing

Disney is finding ways to use 3D printing in toy manufacturing, and it looks like the minds at Disney Research are working to make 3D printing a solid part of the brand’s product future. Generally, 3D printed items are a hard plastic, which can be limiting when it comes to creating products for children. So Disney has found a way to print soft items by creating a 3D printer, sewing machine hybrid that produces

“soft interactive objects.” In the video demoing the invention, the digital model of the toy is still used, but the printer makes it into a cuddly felted bear rather than a hard solid one. But that’s not the only 3D print innovation that Disney has up its sleeve. They have also created a system for making 3D printed interactive speakers that would allow sound to be integrated into toys and other objects in new and novel ways. By using 3D printing, sound reproduction would be integrated into objects in the design stage, rather than added later, so the entire object would reproduce noise, and be embedded with ultrasonic capabilities that communicate with external tech. Sound dry? Imagine a talking toy like Teddy Ruxpin (for all you nostalgic Millennials out there) that produces sound from all over and who is able to interact and speak with computers and portables because of embedded technology that was included in the production. 

LIX: The 3D Printing Pen

Imagine a pen that allows you to make drawings come off the page and become actual objects. You just envisioned LIX, the smallest 3D printing pen that lets you “doodle in the air.”  The LIX was funded 2198%, raising £659,472 on Kickstarter with 15 days left in its crowdfunding time allotment. It’s easy to see why when watching the demo videos of LIX, which literally brings sketches to life by allowing users to draw in the air with tiny 3D print technology. Powered by USB, the pen functions like a regular 3D printer but on a much smaller scale, putting the control of the material into the hand of the user. After heating for one minute, melted plastic emerges from the pen in almost ink-thin lines that then quickly cools to create any rigid freestanding structures that one could imagine. LIX touts the pen’s ability to create either prototypes or art, and the creators even sell a LIX-made sculpture (pictured above) that clearly demonstrates the potential of the tool. The invention that puts 3D printing in consumers’ pockets is currently available for pre-order, with estimated deliveries at the end of this year. 

The Mink: Makeup Printing

Harvard grad Grace Choi is taking on the beauty industry in a modern-day David versus Goliath tale by introducing a 3D makeup printer that lets consumers create custom products with just a click. The Mink uses substrate bases and cosmetic-grade pigment dyes as the major beauty brands do to create custom eyeshadows, lipsticks, creams, and more. Colors can be chosen from anywhere, say from an image on Pinterest, and simply transferred to Photoshop or Paint for printing. The product was made with a mentality of Disruptive Creativity, which we know is highly appealing to Retail Rebel Millennials. Taking out “the bull s*** from the beauty industry,” as Choi puts it, means democratizing the process and offering young women custom makeup products that they can afford. At a projected price of $300, it’s more than a disruptor in the beauty market: The Mink could change the way that young women interact with cosmetics. The Mink will be available in late 2014 and targeted to girls aged 13-21 who are experimenting with makeup as a style statement and use it as a way to build confidence.