3D Printers are putting us back in a mindset to manufacture and make, we owe thanks to the 3D print makers for making manufacturing relevant again. Looking at using 3D printing to actually make products and not just use 3D printer for prototyping. Tom and Tracy Hazzard propose how to truly join the maker world with the manufacturing world and how the two are intertwined already.
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3D Print Makers Shifting Mind-to-Market Manufacturing
I like the subject today on 3D print makers because it deals with paradigm shifts. We were debating this off air and so we thought we’d bring this on air. The idea is that there’s been this tug of war between makers and manufacturers, and who’s going to make the most of 3D printing and who owned tipping it and making it happen and getting awareness for it. We’d also like to mention that this episode on 3D print makers shifting mind-to-market manufacturing is sponsored by MakerBot.
I don’t think that that’s important. I actually think it’s really, my perspective and what I’ve been, not arguing, but a proponent for, is the idea that makers may have pushed the reality of 3D printing into saying, “This doesn’t just belong in prototyping anymore. This belongs in end product making.” Now we have to push it out of the maker’s hands and back into the reality of market manufacturing. Using 3D printing to make real products.
It has to actually go back and forth. There needs to be this collaboration between what we’ve learned rather than treating it like, “The maker’s world is it’s own little isolated world and the manufacturer’s world is it’s own little isolated entity.” Actually, they’re completely intertwined and really dependent on each other, I would think.
If we don’t learn smartly on the manufacturing side from what makers can do, we won’t be incorporating enough customization or cool products that are consumer viable. We learn this so often. You make stuff that nobody wants to buy because you didn’t understand what the world wanted, makers are closer to that because they’re consumers that are making. That’s really the reality of how close they are.
That gets tricky because the reality is everyone is a consumer in some way. Whether they’re a minor consumer, they buy most of the things for their household. They’re a major consumer or a minor consumer. We’re all consumers. I think all too often, people don’t really think about markets on a large scale and the realities of consumers in general, and what’s going to make something successful, what’s going to not.
It’s interesting because makers tend to make things that are more short run or even one off, and you don’t need to appeal to a big market. Of course you’re not going to sell a whole heck of a lot of them either that way. I think definitely 3D printing is uniquely suited to make a quantity of one over and over again in different ways.
It’s a great bridge to two worlds. That’s what we’ve seen from it from the beginning, that the opportunity is there for you to do whatever can pay the bills and make the money by manufacturing them in multiples. But also, be able to have this wonderful, customization option and have those things built in to the system in which you can do both at the same time, that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I think it’s true that makers in the United States, just speaking in particular about the United States, but it’s probably true of many really modern industrialized countries, not what are considered to be the major world factories at this point, like China and other Asian countries. In the United States, makers really have paved the way for manufacturing to be relevant again in areas where manufacturing had completely died in this country.
You’re able to make it localized again. You’ve given demand to products and materials that weren’t there before and are back again. Just idea that it’s worth waiting for something that’s special, just that in and off itself, that mindset shift has been critically important. Not everything has to be delivered in an hour by a drone. It could be three days and it’s still personalized.
I think that mindsets and paradigms are changing. There has been this culture ever since really Federal Express became real, became something that even before the internet existed, Federal Express was really already there. All of a sudden, when you have an important document or have some sort of package, overnight not only became possible but then it became demanded or expected. If you want it, you want it now. Why do you have to wait? There’s overnight shipping. You can do that now. This became this expectation that you’ve got to have it now.
I think in a lot of ways, the big box manufacturers … because throughout the 90s and even starting before the 90s, but especially in the 90s, these big box chains were opening as many stores as they could possibly open each year. A huge part of their sales growth had to do with how many stores they could open. What other regions of the Unites States had they not saturated yet that they could put more stores? As you shift into the 2000s, they do get saturated. There’s no more place to expand. Their growth, their entire business model of growth has to change. In this case, they just try to acquire their competitors. It’s still happening.
That’s the really interesting dichotomy because there’s been all this reports about how Amazon has now proliferated so many warehouses in so many areas that they’re essentially within two days of almost every consumer in this country. They definitely are. That proliferation wasn’t happening unless you were Walmart before that.
You want to look at what’s going on. That’s happening on one hand, but at the same time, we are, as consumers, thanks to makers and thanks to Etsy and other places like that, shown that that’s viable and we are interested in the idea of having something special that isn’t just available sitting on a warehouse shelf somewhere.
I think actually it’s been now a couple decades, at least, of experiencing, American consumers experiencing, big box retail and the fact that they don’t have exactly what they want maybe necessarily. It’s not in the exact color they want or some other feature, but it’s what’s there. It’s what’s available and so they buy it. Sometimes reluctantly, if it’s not exactly what they want.
I think that what’s happening now is actually a response to what big box retail has conditioned the mass American consumer to in that everything you buy there is vanilla. Maybe vanilla and chocolate, but that’s about it. You certainly don’t get 31 flavors of everything. That’s maybe too old a reference.
You don’t have all the different variety like you go into all the Yogurtlands of the world or the Tutti Fruttis and create it yourself and have it your way, put your mix ins. You go out to the machine and take as much as you want, make it your way. All of these things, it’s a backlash response. “I want to take control. I want to have what I want for a change.”
I also think that there’s an interesting thing that we’re not talking about about it. The fact that there’s a larger portion of makers that are women, whereas in the manufacturing world, 85%, I just read the report, it was out that 85% of engineering and designers in that consumer product world are men, yet consumers are 85% women.
We’ve also recognized that’s been a probably with why so many products … Bringing a product to mass market retail is a very risky proposition because it takes a huge amount of dollars, it takes millions of dollars to develop, manufacture and distribute that product. Not just for the manufacturer, but for the retailer.
Retailer commits, like a Target or a Staples or something like that, commits to putting one single skew at retail. It means that it’s going to take 5,000-6,000, depending on what it is, maybe as many as 10,000 if it’s a really small product and they’re going to carry a few more of them per store, just to fill that pipeline. That’s millions of dollars committed. It’s a big bet you have to make.
In that process though, when you have someone who’s in control who doesn’t have a core understanding. In the case for what we’re taking about, it’s not only highly imbalanced in terms of men versus women, but it’s imbalanced of people who are even the country in which they’re selling into. We have a large portion of Asian engineering and design happening for an American market that they don’t understand. Then there’s a gender difference on top of that.
When you have those things to compound, it’s really where in a sense, makers are saying, “Hey, a lot of makers are women.” In that maker process, we’ve proven that there is more traction to better quality, better personalized, better connection to what women want to buy. It makes for a better, more viable product long term. It’s not a risky proposition. There’s a lot of issues with what make sit risky at mass market retail. Part of it is the financial commitment that I was talking about.
The other big risk is if you don’t put something out there that 85% of the shoppers in the store want to buy, guess what? 15% of the shoppers are not enough for a product to make it. You got to appeal to more people. That’s hard to do because everyone doesn’t want to just buy vanilla. I agree that makers and the Etsy community and all this have been a response to that. Certainly, there are a lot of women makers.
I don’t know if they’ve outnumbered men historically, but certainly more of the retail supply chain, if you will, for makers has probably been the Jo-Ann Fabrics of the world, the Michael’s Arts and Crafts. I think more women are definitely shopping those stores than men. No question. But 3D printing, the arrival of desktop 3D printing especially has brought a lot more men into the maker community. There always have been men. The urban workshops of the world and the people in carpentry and some of these harder materials. There’s always been more men than women in making in that sense.
If we’re going to go a little bit sexist here, which Tom and I are more … It’s not sexist. It’s just reality. Tom and I are more than willing to go there because we have all these discussion all the time. It’s important to call out that elephant in the room. That’s the reality of it. That’s the way it. I think it’s a shame that there aren’t more women engineers and more women designers.
When I was in industrial design school in college, we had probably 50 to 60 people in my class, in my department of industrial design, and a handful of women. I want to say five or six. But how many of those women are still practicing? Very few. Two maybe. What does that say about that?
What I wanted to point out really here, in sort of that sexist view of that, is that that may be why 3D printing is having a hard time getting traction into the consumer product market. Because it’s too much of a male perspective driving it? There’s nothing, to me, worse than looking at the product catalog of the directories of files. The files directories, the repositories, like Thingiverse, like Pinshape. Like all of them actually. There isn’t one out there that I think has enough of a tipped value in men versus women in terms of the product offering, but it’s not shoppable. That’s the point.
That’s a probably across I think internet retail in general. They’re not very shoppable. It’s because of the search engine base of how people have to enter keywords in order to find something. What sites do you know that are shoppable? Do you even think Pinterest, which is decidedly a much more female traffic, Pinterest, the image site that’s a much more probably female traffic site. Is that even shoppable?
I think it’s failed to be shoppable but not because women aren’t sharing the designs there and they’re not excited about them and they aren’t. They’re not shoppable because by the time they hit Pinterest they’re already out of the store. They’re already gone. There’s no place to actually transact and buy them. It’s the number one complaint I hear from most women who are on Pinterest. It’s a wishlist site of something you want but you can’t find anymore, you can’t buy any longer. How frustrating is that?
What it is is it actually has a backlash against those companies that try to sell on there because by the time they get in there and they get the traction you need and the viralness necessary to get enough attention, it’s gone.
That’s where it would never happen in the 3D printed world because it’s never gone. That’s where it could work out really well but no one’s trying that to take advantage of that and they should. That’s really a part that’s missing. I think also, you have to look at it from a standpoint, it’s like, no, I think Shapeways is terrible in terms of shopping. Shopping, intercept. It’s not easy at all. If there was a good website, I’d be highlighting it right now. We can’t think of one. Although, I did like Pinshape.
It’s like an experience, like you walk into a store and you’re presented with whether it’s a seasonal offering of things or somehow relevant to, I don’t know, something happening in your community or society or whatever. It’s a tagging, it’s a keyword, it’s a whole thing like that. The thing is, none of those sites have gotten enough value. They aren’t at the level at which an Amazon is for instance.
Amazon’s algorithm, it serves up to me exactly what I want to see because I’ve been shopping there since 1997. They know me. They’ve gone to school on me and data mined me and they’re algorithms have figured out things that I might have a tendency to want. Not just that. They’re paying attention to my gift list and my wish list and all these things. They know it’s my dad’s birthday. They know these things are coming up. Typically at this time of the year, I buy something for him. They know that and they’re serving these things up to me smartly. They understand that mindset of how I shop and how women shop and how shopping is transacted in general.
A file site is organized in this directory category style. It’s an organizational structure. That’s what these repositories are doing. It may have worked just fine when you are providing engineering files to someone who needed a part or a component or these things. But it doesn’t work in a consumer shopping world.
To be fair, another perspective is that Amazon is in a unique position to be able to do that because of their size, because of two decades almost of history here in terms of shopping and studying and cooking what you, as a consumer, and every other individual consumer does. Every site cannot dial it in the way that Amazon does. That’s true. It’s a money issue. You’re a startup and you’re in this certain stage and you’re in this infancy setup of the 3D printing file repository world.
But I think it’s the mind to market strategy that you have to change your mind about who your audience is. Who your audience is today is not the audience you need to be successful and make money. That’s the shift that I wanted to think about, is that makers don’t necessarily make enough profits.
This is actually how I got my job as a columnist for Inc. I did a lecture on makers making profits. How do you become one of those makers … It was really more about how makers are not making profits and what they’re doing wrong than it was examples of makers doing it right.
It’s because the mind shift is different. It’s a market based mindset. Putting head into, how does that market shop, what do they want, why are they there, what do they not care about? You know what the market doesn’t care about? That it’s 3D printed. They don’t care about that part, if 3D print makers were involved in it or not.
The value proposition has to be something other than how it’s made because you don’t have consumer products highlighting, “I’m injection molded. We are rotationally molded. Isn’t that cool? Woohoo!” No. Consumers don’t care. So why are we highlighting 3D printing? It’s what is the real value proposition and why should I, as a consumer, care about your product versus the thousands of others that I get bombarded with?
It’s the perfect gift for my dad’s birthday. That’s how the mindset works. When we can start to shift that and bring in that market and manufacturing mindset that has worked for a while and bring that into the abilities that the maker world has pointed us to, the opportunities of that, that’s the real power of the future of on demand retail 3D printing.
I think we’re seeing lately, and I don’t know when this episode is publishing compared to some others that we’ve already recorded, but I’ll tell you, we’re seeing some pieces of the puzzle here and there being done right. It gives me great excitement and also anticipation and hope. I’m not one to hope really much at all.
We’ve been saying that we believe that 2017 is the year for 3D print makers and 3D printing to be integrated in that mainstream way. We think that that’s the year it’s going to happen. To be honest with you, until probably the last couple of months of this year so far, I haven’t been so confident that that was really happening. I wondered if it might have been a year two later that 3D print makers would see it tip. That it might have been pushing out and it might have been a softening happening in investment that was causing that. I don’t see it as a softening in investment.
I see it as a sifting out of reality to the companies that are really doing something that’s powerful and working and them gaining focus. Them coming to the surface as being the ones we should be looking too. Companies that get it, that understand the realities of the situation and are playing to it and making it happen, we’re seeing more of it. We’re seeing other companies developing technology that is helping to enhance that shopping experience, make that a reality. Make it seamless because that’s what it needs to make it work.
We hope that this episode on 3D print makers, and our debate about that, taking that on the air, is something that your appreciate. We always love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on it. Please send us a message on 3DStartPoint.com, either send on info@3DStartPoint.com email or comment in the comment field of this blog post. Of course, you can reach us on social media @3DStartPoint. There’s even an Ask Us Anything form at the bottom of the home page. Don’t forget that. There’s so many ways to reach us. If you have something to talk about, you really have no excuse. Come on, come talk us.
- “Making” Manufacturing Relevant Again
- Hazz Design Etsy Shop
- Hazz Design on Pinterest
- Women Are 85% Of The Consumer Market. But How Do You Reach Them?
- By Design – Inc. Column
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