PieceMaker Factory in a Store
Do you remember those 20 pence toy vending machines that would dispense little prizes like jelly snakes or toy cars and you would never quite get what you wanted? Well two entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh have designed a new 3D printing kiosk that means customers can get their hands on their own custom made toys.
Speaking to TCT, CEO and Co-founder of PieceMaker Technologies, Arden Rosenblatt explained how the idea for the Factory in a Store, a 3D printer that produces custom toys, came to be one of the most must-have in store gadgets around.
“We started making 3D printers with the idea of trying to produce something that was open and expandable. At this point there were 3D printing companies cropping up every week and it became clear that more importantly than hardware, content was the main issue.”
These innovative Factories are operated using a touch screen digital product gallery filled with over 150 products. Customers simply choose from the catalogue of items, and add their own personalised touches, such as their name or a little message and then print.
Whilst the market for 3D printing has expanded a phenomenal amount over the last few years, the typical uses for a casual home 3D printer user focus on simply replacing or making for fun. Rosenblatt admits it was important to come up with an idea that was interesting enough to allow people to see the possibilities with 3D printing but also something people could engage with on a personal level.
“Sometimes designing something every time you want it is really not that fun and for most people it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The home market is very tough to show value with because you are just making stuff for fun and seeing what you can replace. We were mulling all of this over and started talking to stores and it presented itself as a really good option for us. Having a very specific library solves the issue of what do you make and we can target our content to a group that’s looking for a specific thing and with a smaller library deliver something valuable.”
The kiosks are run using a simple RepRap 3D printer and on average can produce one item item in less than 20 minutes. The idea works like any other vending machine, meaning stores themselves don’t have to pay for the machines, rather just provide the space and subscribe for 3D printing materials. PieceMaker has already set up shop in two S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes stores in Pennsylvania and according to initial figures from the first store pilot, the kiosk was the most profitable product category per square foot and has the potential to bring stores a 5% increase in sales.
“For stores there is a very measurable value. We beat Lego - we beat everybody! There’s lots of excitement, we’ve seen people making custom toys for kids parties, social events, book clubs. We see kids excited about the piece and parents excited about the technology. We’ve really been clicking on a lot of levels with people.”
So what does this mean for the future of retail and 3D printing? The technology is moving so fast that it could become a huge advantage for retailers in the future with reduced costs and the ability to create on demand meaning a more reliable product flow. Will it become so big, it could lead to traditional stores suffering the same fate as one-time movie giant, Blockbuster, which closed its doors as on-demand services took over the market?
“People talk about the opportunity with 3D printing and I definitely see it. I don’t think it’s a replacement for mass manufacturing, I think that’s missing the point but I do think it’s a strong complement. For stores, what’s interesting going forward, is that these products are on demand. They don’t have to stock inventory, ship and deal with complexities and cost. They just let the system run it. The right product is made at the right time, right when the customer wants it.
“I think we need to ask what doesn’t make sense, digitise and create down the supply chain – what we call digitising the supply chain. How do we get that little store in London to create a file, manufacture, fit that whole chain involving thousands of people - how do we put that in a box? It’s similar to how Redbox put blockbuster in a box, how do we do that with an entire product supply chain?”
So far the trials have been really successful and the team are currently overwhelmed with requests from stores about future collaborations. There are already plans to roll out the technology to five more stores this October and then PieceMaker plans to really hit the ground running in early 2015 with stores in even more locations.
“For us we’ve just been trying to make this system fun and easy yet worthwhile so we’re moving very quick to put legs on this. We have had a tonne of interest. We believe pretty strongly in getting the system out as quick as possible. We are cautious not to get ahead of ourselves and are taking it one store at a time. I’m really excited, we’ve got a long wait list that we’re staying up at night and thinking how quick can we do this.”
“We feel pretty strongly that in one way or another, everyone enjoys having their own little mark on the world and for consumers the big attraction is that this is a way to change objects and not just pick something off a shelf but design something that’s exactly what they want.”