Taking a look at Swirly Celebrations and how they used mass customization 3D printing to fill a market gap. This company has used 3D printing to make different ethnic and culturally dressed cake toppers for weddings, birthdays, and all sorts of celebrations. The idea of a mass customizable world with 3D printing is possible.
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Mass Customization 3D Printing
Mass customization is my favorite subject since I started in the design world and working at Herman Miller way back when. The idea of a mass customized world is what interests me. I think we overlook the mass customizable features of something. 3D printing really opened up the idea that we can have a mass customization of so many things. A really good example of that is Corinna Higgins at Swirly Celebrations. She has made these really cute cake toppers, they have different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is a cute idea for weddings, birthdays, or other types of celebrations. Making them in traditional methods makes you limited to the cultural and flavors of them that are the most saleable.
This type of product and this type of market area is where you could have some mass customization and create hundreds of different ethnic combinations in your little figurines. Wouldn’t that be awesome to be able to just do that on demand and on the fly? 3D printing offers that. Swirly Celebrations just found us and said that they have products that they are manufacturing. They are on the market and for sale today. This is an existing product. Cake toppers or small figurines may be 3 inches tall or an inch and a half in diameter. She had an artist who hand carved each of these figurines. She was not using CAD modelling, and they are very artistic and decorative in this regard. For those of us who are older, they have a Precious Moments quality to them. She has 20 different characters in her shop.
They are also very reminiscent of the figurines that you would see in the Hallmark Store. People collect these figurines to be decorations in their homes. These ones from Swirly are made to become cake toppers. They are having them hand carved and they make traditional molds where they cast these figurines in resins. They are in plastic. They are having them painted in a not so much of a decorative way. She was paying lots of money in making them the traditional way. They are quite expensive. We can do a high resolution scan on the existing ones that she has. She has a fine artist to sculpt them, which is a great way to start on your design. There is no reason to create that on your computer.
We thought to take this and compare the cost of having them made and cast in the traditional way in resin to actually 3D printing them with a service bureau, as needed on demand. As we start to compare that, not only the cost was very competitive, but we also were talking about the possibilities of doing slight variations pretty easily. You don’t have to only have 20 characters, you can have 200 that are all made by mass customization 3D printing! That is the amazing part of 3D printing – the inspiration. If your “what” has the opportunity to be so broad reaching, to be ethnically diverse, to have colors, features, and flavors that are different, then you should go for it. 3D printing is the perfect market and the perfect method for that.
Mass Production and Mass Customization
You don’t get points for mass production making more and more of the same thing in 3D printing. If you can handle the customization part pretty quickly and efficiently, the production aspect does not matter if everyone is the same or if everyone is different. It really is a perfect example of that. I also like how this modern technology of 3D printing can help create a lower cost manufacturing option than a standard method. Because her product has a limited run, it is always going to be a smaller run because it got a niche to it. It is a very niche market for sure. When that is your market, then this is the right manufacturing technique for that. I love that and I think that is great.
It reminds me of the episode that we had late last year. It was the Pet Prints. That was much higher end because they were creating each one individually. The design process was very different and more intensive. When you do that, it creates this very personal connection to it. It is not just any dog. It is your dog. It is your memory of them. It is expressing the personality of them. It is your wedding here. Why should it not look like you? She is not trying to look every figurine be visually representative of your facial features; it is just your ethnicity and some of these things as well as your personality. It is fun and it is cute, making it of a personality.
Diversity in Market
The Filipino market is a big market. It is a big community especially here in California, same with the Chinese market. She is intentionally trying to make figurines that relate and are relevant to these people. They are not just buying your typical cake topper that is in typical cake shops. She is able to do it in a more niche way which is more appealing to these people. They are very cute.
I just wanted to put that out there that this mass customization opportunity is even more prevalent today because it is more possible for you to execute on a plan like that. I look back at many mass customization opportunities over the years, and some of them succeeded while some of them did not. You could go to the Levis store and get custom jeans. It was trendy but it was really expensive. They are still making them the old fashioned way. It was an offline processing. It really was not doing it in a new way in terms of production. I hear reports on the speed of production and manufacturing that is really coming down in some of the industrial machines. There are big printing outfits that print for mass market retail.
Looking at that speed coming down just makes us more viable. The costs are coming down too in industrial manufacturing and not just in or homes. There are very real mass customization opportunities for local businesses as well, to use less expensive desktop machines in addition to opportunities to use a service bureau if you have a bigger need or volume. There are lots of opportunities out there. They are also establishing a speed distribution channel which is really important. If you cannot make it, then you can get it there quickly. We know that Amazon is looking at some of these things, and they saw some patents of doing 3D printing in delivery trucks. Amazon is going to figure that out on drones that are flying from wherever they are to deliver something, which is pretty cool.
There are so many opportunities out there, and I am really excited about it. I am seeing more opportunities for household goods to have this mass customization. These figurines do not have to be resin or plastic. There are so many choices nowadays and it is getting exciting.
Resin and Mass Customization
When we first saw these figurines, I was surprised that they were cast in resin. I thought they were ceramic to begin with. The glaze in them is very ceramic like. It turns out that that is just a painting process. I think there is an opportunity with certain products to step up the material quality and the perceived value of them. It tells you that just because the primary material for those desktop 3D printers and most commercial 3D printers are plastic. Plastic is a very appropriate material for a lot of products, including these. I just love the topic of mass customization. I used to do this with textiles. The fabrics were woven with yarns that were already stocked and standard. They were dyed and not woven in colors so you can just redo the formula. The formula is always on the file. They were finished at the end of processes as close to final delivery to the customer as possible. You could make your choices at the end. I would love it to be instantaneous and print it out in the time of production. It was not possible at the time, but it is getting more and more possible.
When I think about the products that we have done, there is always promotional products that are put up in Back to School stuffs. We do small furnishings like back to school desks for kids’ rooms. There was always an issue of color. What is the color in chairs and most desks that is the least offensive out there? You got to make tens of thousands of it in black. How boring is that? What kid would love black? We would come up with these ideas, and the buyers and stores wanted us to include in the box these accent pieces that would snap on or off or screw on easily. They would want them in three different colors.
In order to do it, you have to ship three times the amount of these accent pieces in different colors, than anybody would use. They are going to throw away these parts that are not to be used. It drove me crazy. But now, you can sell and manufacture 95% of the product the same way for anybody, and offer them in the box the instructions on how to have the color accent that you want. We send it to them to make it more personalized. There are so many things that you can do, and that is just one example of what you can do, that we do not have to create these crazy bundles for people that are going to throw it away.
I do want to throw out a little self promotion here. I got notified by a listener recently that they decided to start a podcast because of us, which I thought was such a cool thing. They were inspired to start a podcast. I check out their podcast page and I found out that they had no blog posts and they weren’t doing some best practices. If anyone out there is starting a podcast on 3D printing, please contact us. We have co founded a new business called Podcast Startpoint. We are helping a lot of businesses, mostly on expert marketers, that are starting a lot of new podcasts. We are starting one a week right now, and we have been doing that since May. If you have a need, you can check it out at PodcastStartPoint.com. Just let us know and we will help you. You can go here and listen to that episode there on our new venture.
Thank you for indulging us on this. If it is relevant to you, we want to make sure that you are aware of it. Please share any of you experiences with the coffee sleeve if you want. We will love to see it and we will communicate with you about it. Keep doing that.
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