A recent study points out that, 3D printers have enabled parents to save anywhere from 40% to 90% on children’s toys. The study also highlights how this trend is cutting down on manufacturer’s profits.
Additionally, desktop 3D printers have given prosumers the ability to create a manufacturing hub. As a result, home entrepreneurs are taking a slice of the toy industry, poised to grow to $135 billion by 2020. As of now, there are no certain figures on just how much domestic production can off-set this titanic industry, but cost efficiency is on their side. 3D printed toys can reduce costs by about 90%.
Another advantage is the ability to create unique toys that aren’t available on the market. Or perhaps even substitutes for massive branded toys. Perhaps LEGOs are a bit expensive as famous, branded goods tend to be. Parents could instead make their own LEGO knock-off blocks at home, after all, they aren’t remotely complex in shape or size.
However, one has to wonder where that leaves manufacturers. A lot of toy makers are already grappling with this issue. Many see it as a threat, whereas some see opportunities within. This also has wider implications for those who want to produce toys at home.
Opportunities for Manufacturers
Manufacturers don’t need to despise a world full of 3D printers. If (or maybe when) it does take shape, they will have to readjust. There are potential waves they can ride within this new environment. One way is to join them if you can’t necessary beat them. Mattel announced its plans to sell desktop 3D printers of its own. They saw this as an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and produce 3D printers they had designed specifically for toys.
Manufacturers can also see this as an opportunity to add longevity to their toy lines. They could release a basic toy with add-ons that you can print at home to improve it. It would be a move similar to how the games industry uses DLC (though hopefully not as divisive among consumers). It would add value to their products and maybe even allow users to customise their toys.
While we’re at it, why not give the consumer the ability to produce the whole toy at home? Companies (and even domestic producers) could potentially release designs that user could pay for and print at home. This could cut down on production, manufacturing and storage. Sites like My Mini Factory are already doing this and are making hefty sums of money with it.
Manufacturing at home opens up a can of worms for federal regulations commissioners. Should someone be allowed to sell toys out of their garage or should it go through quality controls? Regulators will have to check for material toxicity and assign appropriate labels for choking hazards. They would also have to request safety tests before they could hand it over to children.
Then there’s the issue of what workplace regulations will apply. Essentially, a lot of people will be working from their garage. Rules, when it comes to 3D printers, have been quite relaxed but this could present a need for establishing new guidelines.
Similarly, rights issues can be tricky. Copyrighting toys and digital models and ensuring that no one is stealing anyone else’s designs can be tricky. It’s already tough enough restricting music and movies online, now actual physical data and computer models. I imagine, some form of registration will be necessary to ensure legal processes are being followed.