Consumer Products

As high-throughput and production-ready technologies for both polymer and metals become more established on the market, 3D printed consumer products are becoming an increasingly relevant segment of additive manufacturing. Literally, millions of consumer products have begun integrating mass-produced—and in some cases mass-customized—3D printed elements.

When we talk about consumer AM, we are refering primarily to industrially 3D printed products rather than products made using low-cost consumer 3D printers. Consumers of industrially 3D printed products are concerned with the products themselves and only very marginally with the processes used for making them. They are users of 3D printed products because these are better, more efficient, more customized products, not because they are 3D printed. For this reason, AM technologies must be able to offer a product that is equal or superior to conventionally manufactured ones at a comparable cost. 

Some of the most common commercially available 3D printed consumer products today include eyewear frames and footwear products (insoles, midsoles, sandals), as well as sporting equipment and gear. These product categories all leverage 3D printing to offer improved customization and better performances through more efficient product geometries that ensure lightweight and ergonomic properties. Within this segment, areas such as 3D printed footwear, 3D printed eyewear and 3D printed sportswear are embracing AM technologies at a very rapid pace, driven by higher productivity polymer AM systems.

Eyewear

While a key consumer AM application, the use of 3D printing in the eyewear market is still relatively niche, and its growth is largely driven by the trend for mass customization. The lower costs of accessibility to AM technologies and materials, coupled with much wider availability of 3D capturing and 3D scanning devices and software all contribute to making custom 3D printed eyewear into what could be the first truly mass customized product. At MIDO 2024, for instance, Materialse demonstrated its Eyewear Fitting Suite, which generates customized 3D printed frames for customers, which can then be 3D printed on demand. 

Design freedom and production agility are also key in this subsegment, as smaller eyewear brands are leveraging AM to create innovative frame designs either on demand or in small batch quantities. Laser powder bed fusion technologies such as SLS are the dominant production method in the 3D printed eyewear subsegment, however Multi Jet Fusion, resin-based technologies like DLP and metal 3D printing (for example, Hoet) are also used. 

Footwear

The first footwear products to be 3D printed were orthopedic insoles. These products are customized and ensure increased comfort by perfectly adapting to the foot’s geometry and the user’s gait. Evolution of basic insole products led a number of companies to introduce 3D printed orthotics, ensuring even more accurate and effective support, or 3D printed custom sandals. Midsoles then became one of the most significant cases of mass production via additive manufacturing, with adidas and Carbon developing a workflow for serially 3D printing midsoles. Other footwear brands have also turned to 3D printing, including Brooks, ASICS, Puma, Reebok and more, in the production of experimental and commercially available footwear. 

Today, there are many different uses of AM in footwear design and manufacturing. As we saw, insoles and midsoles are a big opportunity, but uppers (the production of which are very labor intensive) are also in some cases being 3D printed to increase production automation. Luxury shoes and limited edition designs are also an interesting area for AM footwear applications. 

Sporting goods

In the sporting goods segment, 3D printing has been used to both develop and make entire products and parts, including snowboarding bindings, goggles, ski boots, golf clubs, backpacks, professional football helmets, bobsled components, entire bicycles and bicycle parts and even an airless basketball. The primary aim of using AM for these applications is to enhance performance and ergonomics through design optimization, sometimes through customization. In virtually all cases, these printed products are not replacing their conventionally manufactured counterparts, but are intended for professional or high level users. 

Many AM technologies are used in this particular subsegment. For instance, laser powder bed fusion has been employed in the production of snowboard bindings and a lattice structure for ski goggles, while other lattice-based products, like bicycle seats, have been made using Carbon’s DLS technology. Metal AM has also played a part in the production of cutting-edge bicycle parts, including titanium brake levers, frames and more.

Other consumer AM applications

Another typical consumer product segment using 3D printing at various levels is jewelry. In this case, 3D printing is primarily used for indirect production via lost wax casting, enabling more advanced geometries with traditional materials. The next generation of jewelry products are using additive manufacturing as a direct manufacturing tool for technical ceramics and direct precious metal additive manufacturing. There are also examples of direct 3D printing of jewelry and watches. For instance, 3D printed metal chassis for high-performance or luxury watches, and the direct printing of precious metals for statement jewelry pieces. Other consumer AM applications include homeware and interior design elements, such as 3D printed sinks and cutting-edge furniture

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