Fabbing becoming price-competitive

Paul Raven @ 17-07-2009

Via Fabbaloo comes news that big businesses are starting to wake up to the savings they can make with 3D printing and rapid prototyping technology. Granted, this is a press release from a company that makes 3D printers, but the solid numbers that they’re quoting with respect to shoe giants Converse speak more loudly than the corporate back-patting:

Converse says its ZPrinters can produce a shoe model in two hours, or nearly 30 times faster than an ABS printer. ZPrinting has also helped:

  • Eliminate eight annual trips to Asia for design consultations at a cost of up to $12,000 per person for each trip;
  • Cut tooling costs from $350,000 in 2006 to $150,000 in 2008 by using ZPrinted models to winnow designs; and
  • Transform the way the company does business by bringing 3D shoe models to key accounts and producing models on demand.

“We’re seeing new prototypes in hours and cutting weeks off our design cycle,” said Bryan Cioffi, manager of digital product creation at Converse of N. Andover, Mass, USA. “Last night’s sketches become tangible color models that we can pass around at this morning’s meeting. Our ZPrinter has become a prototyping center in its own right, and it’s helping us get better products to market more quickly for less money.”

That technology is itself becoming cheaper by the month, so we can expect many other manufacturers to clamber aboard the fabbing train as they attempt to rebuild after the economic slump.

But that same capability may actually spell the doom of corporate giants like Converse. After all, when every town has a 3D print-shop, why pay Converse for a new pair of trainers that they’ve designed when you can just clone their basic design files from a torrent, make some unique tweaks and print out a custom sneaker of your own for a comparable (or perhaps even lower) price?

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One Response to “Fabbing becoming price-competitive”

  1. khannea says:

    Not included in te above –

    firing a lawyer, a caster, one sculpter, half a stewardess, an airport cocktail waitress and 3.1 consultants.

    If this gets big it will push a lot of low-to-middle trained people, especially in the third world, into unemployment and straight over the edge into poverty. Couple this with robotics (and a highly sober grandpa sitting at home in nebraska driving your taxi), and I see a lot of jobs recently outsourced returning home – simply to mop up mass unemployed people voting gradually more towards the leftist end of the political spectrum. If unemployment levels get high enough I am sure we’d see protectionism return very hard and fast. Even places like the US are no longer immune, not unless they change their prisons into “spare organ storage facilities”.