In the future, 3D printing will afford people the ability to easily personalize everyday items they wish to purchase. The theory of a mass customization society is something 3D printing enthusiasts have been touting for years.
It looks like hardware retailing giant Lowe's is about to test the theory, literally.
Lowe's is introducing in-store and online 3D printing and scanning services that will allow customers to reproduce rare replacement parts or design unique products instead of purchasing off-the-shelf units. Consumers will be able to customize the color, shape and material of various items including light switch plates, address plates, door handles and cabinet knobs. Customers will also be able to scan things and have them reproduced.
"The home is very personal and 3D printing gives homeowners unprecedented access to build items that reflect their individuality," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs. "Until now, it's been hard for the average consumer to benefit from this technology because of the cost and complexity, so we are bringing customers an approachable and affordable customization experience."
Lowe's Innovation Labs developed the project in partnership with Authentise, a provider of secure distribution tools for 3D printing. CGTrader and Sculpteo are also on board, presumably to help with design templates and fulfillment.
"Our partnership with Authentise enabled us to rapidly develop 3D solutions in a way that is core to home improvement and positions Lowe's at the forefront of the digital manufacturing revolution," Nel said.
The first location to offer the new service will be Orchard Supply Hardware in Mountain View, Calif. and its companion website. Plastic print jobs will be done in the store while objects made of more unusual materials ranging from metal to ceramic will be shipped to the customer. A 3D print and design specialist will assist customers at the in-store kiosk.
"3D printing and scanning are changing the way we produce, deliver and interact with objects," said Andre Wegner, CEO of Authentise. "We are delighted to have helped Lowe's create a solution that makes these changes relevant to its customers, while building a scalable platform to support future demand."
It is only one store and it might take a little while to catch on, but this is an idea whose time has come. It is simplified access to a 3D printing service bureau at a location where the average shopper isn't an engineer, but might have a use for it.