from the think-small dept
There's plenty of breathless writing about the imminent 3D-printing revolution, but realistically, what is it likely to mean for most people? They probably won't all be printing out their own planes, but they may well be printing out small replacement parts for goods they own. Here's an early example of that from the world of electronics, spotted by the Shapeways site:
Teenage Engineering not only make one of the sexiest synthesizers but also get the prize for being the first electronics company to offer their replacement parts as downloadable 3D Printed files.
Teenage Engineering's explanation for the move is as follows:
We work hard to make our OP-1 [synthesizer] users happy with free OS updates and added functionality. But sometimes we fail. As some have noted, the shipping cost of the OP-1 accessories is very high. This is because we can't find a good delivery service for small items. Meanwhile, we have decided to put all CAD files of the parts in our library section for you to download. The files are provided in both STEP and STL format. Just download the files and 3D print as many as you want.
Worth noting that this is about serving customers by helping them avoid high shipping costs -- not something every company cares about. Notice, too, that Teenage Engineering explicitly encourages people to print as many replacement parts as they want -- no attempt to limit this to "one-offs" through stupid licensing agreements, for example.
Of course, that's exactly as it should be -- but too often isn't. However, it's also a shrewd move. It means that customers are likely to use their synthesizers for longer, and to become more attached to them. Building customer loyalty in this way is likely to turn them into good ambassadors for the company, and makes the next sale more likely, so Teenage Engineering's generosity is also good business. Similarly, making the CAD files available encourages users to modify and customize the parts, again building loyalty to the brand, and enriching the ecosystem that grows up around the product.
It would be surprising if this kind of approach did not become more widespread among manufacturers of many categories of goods, given the clear advantages it offers. It's not quite as exciting as printing out a car or a plane, but is a practical application of 3D printers that might well help drive their wider use thanks to the direct, everyday savings they can bring.