Added value 3D printers for retailers

3D printing currently attracts much attention from the media. However, not all 3D printing groups can add value or are aware of the benefits. This report evaluates the current state of the adoption of desktop 3D printing. It analyses retailers based on feedback by partners and clients of Leapfrog 3D Printers. It also analyses the potential added value 3D printers for retailers by looking at their value chain.

Desktop 3D printers are those relatively small, affordable and easy to use 3D printers. They utilize cheap materials such as plastic, which are currently a catalyst behind the rapid adoption of 3D printing. These printers are not to be mistaken for hobby machines, they are used in highly professional settings. For the first time, businesses and schools can now afford to integrate 3D printers in processes throughout their value chain. For this report, focused on the retail sector, we asked product and interior designers, retailers and retail experts:

  • how retailers use desktop 3D printing now
  • how they could use it to add value
  • what is currently keeping them from using it on a large scale

IKEA furniture often includes various small metal parts.

Main insights

Currently not much activity among retailers. Retailers have not widely adopted 3D printing yet. Besides selling 3D printers, there are not many known cases of established retailers using 3D printing in their business processes; neither are there many efforts to delight their customers or offer extra services to them. The main activity we see from the rising number of startups and a few established companies is to open up 3D print service shops. Those shops work much like the traditional copy shops.

Benefits within the value chain. In fact, looking at the value chain of retailers (page 3), there is a world of opportunity to gain from integrating desktop 3D printing in processes all throughout the business. While 3D printing has gained much attention from the fact that it can cut costs in manufacturing, retailers can strongly benefit from it in customer interaction as well. Since there has not been much 3D printing activity in this industry yet, there is a major advantage for the retailer that dares to move first.

Reasons why it is not happening

The main reason is unfamiliarity with the phenomenon as well as with the skills needed to produce a 3D design. Most retailers have heard about 3D printing, but how it can really be utilized to add value is in many cases still a mystery. Respondents that have had previous experience in 3D printing expect that the adoption of the phenomenon by retailers will take a spur in the coming months. Especially as desktop 3D printers get faster with a more accurate and detailed result. Much will be gained from the fact that there is increased innovation activity within the material industry that is expected to hit desktop 3D printing soon. The more printing materials available, the more versatile the range of applications.