Mass Customization

Janne Kyttanen: Finding the magic number for customization utilizing 3D printing in your industry

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3D printing enables a level of customization beyond your wildest dreams! However, the success of these types of products is very challenging to navigate because the meaning and value of “customization” is very different per industry.

Furthermore, given today’s in-home 3D printing capabilities on the market, basically anyone can buy a 3D printer, take some e-courses, create a good enough model and start an on-line store without doing any real homework.

Thus, many customization applications in 3D printing are born out of simple curiosities, like:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if everybody could have a custom hat designed around the circumference of their skull,” or “what if everyone could have a perfect belt pre-made according to their waist size?”

These thoughts and ideas can be very exciting, but are they scalable? And how far should we really go when it comes to customization for a certain product within any given industry?

Let’s take an example where a “one-off” application has been extremely beneficial and successful, the medical industry.

magic number

You have seen custom dental braces, orthopaedics, hip replacements, teeth crowns and surgical inserts for many years. In these cases, it makes sense that a product is completely customized to the individual. You would not want a “good enough” hip replacement to solve a very personal challenge. But would you pay the same amount of money for a custom hat? Most likely not!

Yet these items can be equally complex to design, take the same amount of time to produce and utilize pretty much the same amount of material?

The biggest difference between both situations is that the medical field has done its homework. Not only did it study the market, but it understands price elasticity. So, it is not by accident that these applications have become widely successful with highly customized services.

Still, every industry has its threshold for a specific “custom magic number” when it comes to 3D printing. Let’s take the “Fast Moving Consumer Good” (FMCG) industry as an example. Typical production runs are in the hundreds of millions or even billions. As a result, its magic number wouldn’t be 100, but rather hundreds of thousands or even a million.

When it comes to footwear, the prediction is that the magic number is “127.” But where does this magic number come from?

Natacha Alpert, who has been working in the footwear industry with iconic brands for 16 years witnessing the challenges in the archaic footwear industry firsthand, is quoted saying:

“In the 1950’s footwear brands offered many different widths and in-store customer service for bespoke fitting. However, with mass scale global production in the 1970’s and fast fashion of today, this went away. Now 90% of the population buy the wrong shoe sizes or don’t even know their correct shoe size. This has created an average of 20% return rate from brick and mortar and e-commerce sales. This mounts to annual 80 billion of lost revenue for the footwear industry! Thus, the pain point is in correct sizing, fitting and reducing returns and not necessarily figuring out the new trendy color for the spring collection. By offering consumers 127 sizes you can capture 90% more of the population simply by offering a vast size range that serves the consumer directly for accurate fit with 3mm increments. The 90% of the population needs to be provided for different widths and global sizing fitting to encompass all markets. 127 sizes will also increase revenue for brands to better serve the consumer for a better fit.”

magic number

3D printing is the answer! And the power is in utilizing it in a clever way: as a tool versus a marketing gimmick.

One of the beauties of marrying our 3D Thermo Injection Technology (3DTI) with an SLS machine which has a much larger footprint, like Lisa 2 by Sinterit, is that we can create master footwear molds for only $30 per mold and begin production overnight.

On the contrary, the traditional industry would utilize steel molds in the range of $3-4k per mold. And it typically takes 18 months before the product hits the stores. If you multiply $3-4k by 127 sizes in steel molds, you can see why the current system cannot withstand this kind of cost.

So how can 3D printing add value to your industry? Understanding your magic number, which provides the right ROI in terms of “custom enough” vs. “highly customized” products. I see a world of possibility when it comes to custom applications within 3D printing, but very few companies and individuals can connect the dots, do enough homework and find their magic number.

There are so many pieces to the puzzle beyond 3D printing an item which can be customized. After that comes cleaning, curing, storage, labor, post processing, packing, shipping and much more. All adding into the success or failure of that product.

The ‘most exciting’ 3D printing custom applications may show you a fancy design but they often fail to tell you the whole story; which a lot of the times becomes the un-scalable Achilles heel for these applications.

Curious to discuss customization utilizing 3D printing in your industry? Contact me!

Consumer Products AM 2024

1,346 polymer and metal AM companies and 143 end-users. Consumer products AM generated $2.6 billion in 2023. Segment expected to grow to $28 billion by 2033 at 26.8% CAGR. This new market study fro...

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