3D printing has been around since the 1970s – but in a period where the average computer had to be housed in several rooms, and the technology was too costly and primitive to be of much use. Forty years on, and 3D printers can use plastic, metal, rubber, silicone and porcelain to print products – and we’re already starting to see the impact that this impressive technology is having in retail, from Dita Von Teese’s little black (plastic) dress, to desktop 3D printers for the home.
So, in a world where we can already print anything from houses to human organs, what does this mean for the future of retail?
1. Toys will look like their owners
Personalisation has long been rising in the retail ranks, and there’s no reason why this can’t filter down into playgrounds and playrooms. With a few dimensions and specifications added to a template, pocket-sized replicas of yourself are only a click away. After all, it’s been done in chocolate.
2. People will be able to print out their purchases
Imagine a world where you can print a sofa fabric swatch in your living room, new clothes in your bedroom, and a bottle of perfume in your bathroom – it might not be so far away. It’s even been predicted that designers and consumers of the future will join forces and craft unique, personalised clothing creations, but it’s doubtful this will be a cheap process.
3. The ready meal will be reinvented
While 3D-printed food is unlikely to take over from the dining experience, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get better quality (and hopefully more nutritious) meals printed in the comfort of your own home. Combine 3D printing with voice recognition à la Apple’s Siri, and the future will look a lot like the Star Trek replicator. Scientists have already tried to print meat.
Logistically, 3D printing makes sense: print the parts for your new house on-site, or save on shipping costs when you shop online. It’s also a time-saving technology, where products whose parts were once traditionally pieced together, are now able to be layered as they’re printed. It’s also a positive move to think that hard labour may soon be replaced by skilled labour (read: ingenious minds). Increasingly, looking into the future is equivalent to seeing some of our present practices consigned to the past.