3-D printing will soon become the norm

A partnership between Target and Shapeways will bring 3-D printed goods to the holidays.

Martha Pietruszewski

That key to your house you lost last week? No need to go to a locksmith; just 3-D print a new one. That miniature of the Eiffel Tower you feel like making? Go for it — it’ll make a great gift.

Last week, Target announced a partnership with Shapeways, a 3-D printing company, which is scheduled to begin this holiday season. This news comes in the wake of Amazon’s decision to launch a 3-D printing section on its website this past July.

The new partnership is beneficial for Target and consumers alike because it increases general accessibility to 3-D printed objects.

3-D printing was once thought to be an expensive process, but Target and Amazon are taking steps toward breaking into a mass market.

Target is offering 3-D printed ornaments, menorahs and rings, to name a few items. These products are inexpensive, starting at just $7.99. It’s a strategic move to price them competitively for Target’s customers.

Making 3-D printed objects affordable is key to entering a mass market. However, 3-D printing may not be the best way to produce Shapeways’ holiday trinkets, which aren’t necessarily mass-produced.

From start to finish, producing these trinkets requires a seven-step process, during which 10 different people touch the product. This process requires a lot of time and increased costs for each product. Moreover, because each object is so unique, it takes time to ensure that their quality is up to company standards.

If 3-D printing moves toward a mass production model, it will lower costs in the long run. Target needs to consider the cost aspect while still keeping the quality and uniqueness of these products intact.

Even though ornaments are seen as basic consumer items, it is likely that Target’s new partnership will draw awareness to this fresh and exciting production method. With more public awareness, the possibilities to continue developing 3-D printing technology are seemingly endless.

For example, you can now 3-D print false teeth and replacement hip joints. If hospitals decide to invest and purchase a machine to print the hip joints on site, these medical advancements would be more accessible to patients and would not need to be outsourced to a different company. And as the world’s population continues to age, hip joints may soon be a mass-market product.

Alternatively, consumers like you and me may just be looking to break into the 3-D printing market to create a customized item we can’t find in stores.

These printers are slowly becoming affordable — there are already several consumer-grade 3-D printers on the market, ranging from about $300 to $3,000.

Target and Amazon are taking the first steps into promoting mass awareness of the technology. By keeping 3-D printed objects in their inventory, these stores are promoting the ease and affordability of 3-D printing, which will hopefully inspire other companies to adopt this technology in the near future.