3D printing as enabler for future mass customization

Although 3D printing is not completely adopted by companies yet, it provides the opportunity to let consumers customize products to their needs. This is due to the fact that this way of producing provides flexibility (D’Aveni, 2015). Therefore, new business initiatives emerge that make use of 3D printing for ‘mass’ customization. An example is a company called Digital Forming. Within the company’s app, customers are able to adjust product parameters such as shape, color, size and materials. There is a professional design that serves as a basis for the design process. Therefore, the company also refers to it as ‘co-design’. Examples of products that can be customized and 3D printed by Digital Forming are jewelry, iPhone cases and coffee cups. After the customer has designed its product, it is produced in a 3D printing manufacturing facility of Digital Forming.

Another example is the startup company Trove, which enables customers to customize metal jewelry. Customers are able to pick 30 base designs, from which they can customize for example rings and bracelets. After the customer has finished its design, a plastic prototype is shipped to the customer to test the size and the fit. After the customer has approved the prototype, the product can be 3D printed in gold, silver and bronze. All the designs that are made on the Trove platform are saved in a database for other customers to order or to use as basis for further customization (Zaleski, 2015).

One of the conditions to make customization with 3D printing possible is that customers provide companies with the necessary data. Therefore, companies are developing new ways for consumers to provide the data, which can be converted into 3D designs. The preferred way to do this is to use sensors that consumers use in their daily lives such as cameras on mobile phones and webcams on laptops (Cassaignau, 2015).


A third example is a company that makes customized 3D printed earphones called Normal. The company developed an app that lets their customers take a picture of their ears in order to produce the earphones. With this 2D image that is provided by the customer, the 3D earphones are produced within 2 days. Another example is SOLS. This company uses both 3D printing and scanning to help doctors make custom orthotics for their patients. The measurement is done by using an iPad app. The company expects that it can use the same technology for other products such as customizing the padding in bike helmets.

To be able to receive the previous discussed type of data from customers, a high investment in technology might be necessary for companies. However, consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that they specifically design to their needs. The ability of companies to turn the customer data into the right designs and products will be important to reap the benefits of 3D printing (Cassaignau, 2015).

In the future, 3D printing will probably enable consumers to customize more products (for which this was not possible prior).


  • D’Aveni, R. (2015) ‘The 3-D printing revolution’, Harvard Business Review: pp. 41-48.

Author: 345510jr

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