3D Printing; It's All About the Brand

Can 3D Printing Be the Future of Play?

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 8:00am
Last updated
7 months ago
Time to
3D Printer

While this article is about toys, can playgrounds be far behind? How can we take advantage of this future direction for the best of our structures?

There is nothing as potentially disruptive to manufacturing, and the toy industry in particular as, 3D Printing. It is astounding that a home appliance, the 3D Printer, by offering in-home manufacturing has the ability to virtually wipe out an entire supply chain.

Should we be surprised? Well, no we should not. The Internet has disrupted and totally changed the way we read, watch television and listen to music. The cell phone, another major game changer, has just about destroyed the old guard photography business and with it the 127 year old Kodak Company.

Yet, despite in-home 3D printers being available for almost a decade and with prices steadily dropping (they are down to $299 for some models) it still appears to be more hobby than practical appliance. Of course, we need to remember that other technology breakthroughs like home computing and radios were initially hobby oriented in their early years. The below copy of Radio World Illustrated magazine from the 1920’s is just one example of the early hobbyist enthusiasm.

Radio World

In better understanding 3D printing and its potential cost savings for consumers I did some research and came upon a study published in the July issue of Technologies.  Entitled, “Impact of DIY Home Manufacturing with 3D Printing on the Toy and Game Market”, the article provides a case study using toys to determine the cost savings in using a 3D Printer versus purchasing finished, consumer goods at retail.

The researchers worked with MyMiniFactory, a provider of 3D downloads. They collected the 100 most popular downloaded designs over the course of a month. Using the data, they did case studies on “six “complex toys”; Lego blocks, and  “open source board games”.

And what were the results? They found that costs were anywhere from 40% to 90% lower when people printed out a toy on a 3D Printer rather than purchased the item at a store. Their conclusion was that consumer in-home manufacturing “is set to have a significant impact on the toy and game markets in the future”.

The products studied were:
Products Compared


Products Compared

Are the authors of the study correct? What is holding things up? Will these sorts of price savings be enough to move the needle?

In my opinion it will not happen until 3D printing moves from being about the device to being about the end product. That means that major brands will have to take the lead in creating downloadable designs and assuring quality controls over which devices are used.  

Why should major brands do it?

  • Because if they don’t they will open the door to easily pirated versions of their products at far cheaper prices.
  • Because if they don’t they will be missing out on additional revenues.
  • Because if they don’t, their competition will.
  • Because they will no longer be at the mercy of factories, container ships, trucks and warehouses.

Let me give you an example:

One of the more popular 3D Printing pass times is designing special bricks that fit with Lego sets.  It would seem sensible for Lego to, at some point, to recognize that they need to take control of the in-home production of bricks.

So, how about an in-home “Lego Brick Maker” that shares the company’s brand values and quality? That allows Lego enthusiasts to share original brick ideas and print them out. Imagine the additional revenue Lego would receive from selling the Brick Maker. Imagine the incremental profit from selling downloads.

It’s of course not just Lego that can benefit. Imagine Hasbro selling downloads for limited edition Monopoly or Chess game pieces. Imagine Moose Toys producing a “Shopkins Maker” and following up with limited edition downloads.  

Those brands that dominate 3D printing now are going to dominate it later. Will that happen soon? I am predicting it will.

Will it be the end of traditional manufacturing, logistics and operations? Not entirely but it will provide a whole new way for toy companies to interact with their consumers and make money doing so. What do you think?

RG Signature

At Playground Professionals, we scour the internet looking for today's play news and views to share with you, bringing them all together in one place.

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