We’re all eagerly waiting for the day that 3D printers become a ‘normal’ household item. However, that era is still a while away. 3D printers in the home are exciting for many reasons. One of its most exciting prospects is how it will democratize industries that are less accessible. This includes a lot of niche products. Niche products are those that don’t have a mass market appeal but do have a select, dedicated audience big enough to keep them going.
Some products are inherently less available. Therefore, many consumers are resigned to either scour the Internet for a good deal or be at the mercy of companies that may or may not have it in stock. As a result, people might turn to 3D printers. And why not? Cheap production, no delivery issues, little hassle etc. It’s also available from the comfort of one’s home. So, it’s less a question of if it will happen, more about when.
This article is speculative and is trying to imagine a world where 3D printing is a typical household convenience. Therefore, the article will be full of ‘what ifs?’ and futurist star-gazing. Here are some industries of rather selective interest that might see a boom thanks to 3D printing:
Vinyls aren’t for everybody. There is debate about the merits of vinyl records as a format. Some listeners adore them, while others insist the “better sound quality” is merely a nostalgia-laced, aesthetic placebo. Yet, they’ve seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. So much so that they’ve hit their highest sales in 25 years. However, they are still a niche product. Not everyone has a vinyl player and not every musician wants their music on vinyl.
Furthermore, the technology for vinyl production has not improved in decades. A lot of vinyl producers are still using practically-ancient technology to produce these LPs. Simply put, the technology has not kept up with the new demand. That makes the records expensive. It also means fewer labels are able to produce them. However, 3D printing offers audiophiles a possible way out. In fact, as this instructables entry shows, 3D printed vinyls already exist. However, it is worth noting that 3D printed vinyls still have much room for improvement audio quality wise.
Imagine a world where you can simply download a vinyl record and print it on your own. Now imagine record labels selling stl files to consumers on their websites. Better yet, maybe bands could make their own and publish them on the web to make the money themselves. They could even keep their inventory really low and sell ‘made to order’ vinyls. Obscure retro records could also be made readily available in their original format. Speaking of retro…
Out of Production Computer or Retro Console Parts
Let’s say you have a ton of old-school tech lying around (I know I do). The only reason you’re not using it anymore is that one tiny bit is broken. You’ve checked the web and that one minuscule part is out of production. You could check the web for a file or perhaps the company has put out an stl its own. Or perhaps a well-meaning samaritan has an open-source repair guide to suit your needs.
You could potentially bring your old NES or Sega Genesis back to life. Maybe you’re a fan of old-school gaming or love retro computers. There is already a prevalent market for retro tech. Additionally, people can already 3D print fake replicas of consoles that can visually pass as real. So, it stands to reason this can be a thriving industry that could take advantage of the 3D printing market.
You may not even have to travel over to a shop to get repairs done. Any discerning consumer could perhaps open up a Youtube tutorial and fix their own computers. All you’d need is a force of will and a 3D printer. IBM are already working on microchip 3D printing, so that innovation could vastly democratise computer repair.
Fashion, Cosplay and Tailoring
I was struggling with whether I can include fashion as a ‘niche’ interest. Therefore, I might have to stress that I mean DIY fashion. Not everybody makes their own dresses or takes part in cosplay. Yet, self-styling gets tons of interest on the net and cosplay rakes in loads of money. However, they can both be immensely laborious and thus making people reluctant to take it up. Tailoring and making your own clothes is also time-consuming, not to mention the monetary investment. So perhaps we can see people delegating these creative endeavours to household printers.
3D printed dresses already exist. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time till these capabilities are domestic conveniences as opposed to outsourced luxuries. Filaments made from wearable materials like Nylon already exist. In fact, Taulman markets its PCTPE filament specifically towards cosplay. So perhaps every comic-con will be Christmas for the filament manufacturers. Personally, I’d also like to see it adopted in the broader industry. Costs could go down and consumers and producers would be less reliant on 3rd world labour.