The short answer to the question of whether 3D printing technology improves branding and marketing is a certain ‘yes’. However, the more pertinent question is ‘how’ does it improve it?
Albeit somewhat tentatively, 3D printing has already been used in consumer marketing by big brands such as Coca-Cola Israel where in-store machines in selected stores allowed customers to 3D print a smaller version of themselves for a set fee. Biscuit brand belVita also used 3D printing in its integrated marketing campaign that celebrated people’smorning wins’ with the prize of a 3D printed trophy for the best ones. We even saw Nescafe use it to print selected USB-powered caps that light up and make sounds.
For the most part, examples such as these have been novelty-oriented and 3D printing has not become a mainstream marketing channel. However, in manufacturing, there are more behind the merits of the scene of industrial 3D printing all of which we will explore in this article.
The benefits of using 3D printing technology in marketing
Before we do, it’s relevant to point out that marketing models do not need to be functional for end use consumption. Their functionality lies in the need for them to accurately portray how an end part or product will look when ready for consumers. Aesthetics can tell us a lot about a part or component and its purpose at this stage, and outlines how to proceed with its development. Do sizes need to be tweaked? Do colours need to change or does the design need to change fundamentally?
Any creative process involves asking these questions and making mistakes to arrive at the best solution. Lending itself to the nature of this process, 3D printing technology allows for numerous iterations to be produced quickly and at low cost. It offers manufacturers, print advertisers and commercial marketing organisations greater affordability when it comes to prototyping their products or parts before market launch.
The role of rapid prototyping in marketing
To explain the role of rapid prototyping in manufacturing and its relationship to marketing, it’s useful to know exactly what methods are available to create 3D printed models:
- Stereolithography is one of the most popular kinds of technologies used to create 3D printed objects and concept models which can be used in the initial stages of the marketing process. The system uses a laser beam and CAD software and a number of different materials are available for use with SLA printing. This means models can be ‘trialled’ with different materials and some manufacturers offer painting and post machining as an additional service to more fully tailor a shape.
- Selective Laser Sintering is another prevalent method of 3D printing, this time, the machine uses a laser to bind small drops of powder to create functional parts. Stronger than SLA due to strength of finished product, it is not able to achieve the same level of detail. However, parts can be reproduced in a short space of time (often one day) and there is a variety of different materials (nylon-based) that can be used.
- Multijet fusion uses a powder bed to make very thin layers of around 80 microns, which ultimately makes parts dense and less absorbent compared to laser sintering. The process creates nylon prototypes in a short space of time (often only 24 hours). MJF is ideal for models that require fine finishes, and parts produced in this way can be multifaceted and remain at a lower cost.
- Polyjet printing is known for providing great accuracy for final parts, producing them in colour and varying levels of rigidity. Polyjet printing operates similar to an ink jet printer but instead of using ink, small drops of liquid photopolymer are jetted and solidified in UV light.
- Direct Metal Sintering (DMLS) works using a laser beam to create metal prototypes in around seven days. Each layer is sintered beginning with support structures, a process which produces very dense and strong casted metal parts with fast completion times. Industries that benefit from this kind of 3D printing include aerospace, oil and gas, thanks to their strength.
Benefits of 3D printing technology
Together, these methods of 3D printing offer several benefits to companies looking to create prototype models for marketing purposes. These are:
A diversity of materials is available for 3D printing meaning, there is plenty of choice when it comes to the design. These are different kinds of resins and metal powders used to print the parts required.
Summing things up
Although 3D printing is slowly making its presence known to consumers, many believe it represents a mere passing phase in technology. However, it’s important to remember that 3D printing is still in the early stages and developments into its use are being made all the time. It may seem far-fetched to imagine a large proportion of the products we use to be 3D printed, but at the rate technology is developing, it may not be too distant a dream.
Leading the way in the 3D printing technology is the adoption of it in manufacturing, with fast print runs and prototypes becoming the most concrete way of demonstrating their use to brands. Promotional materials may still have a way to go when it comes to striking the right chord with consumers, but the way in which small and affordable print runs can be executed through a range of different 3D printing technologies, represents golden opportunities.
Early-stage ideas and product concepts can be market tested quickly, allowing businesses to uncover what works and what doesn’t work. For example, being able to print prototype packaging at speed means designs can be modified and consumers can provide valuable feedback, adding to the future development of the next phase.
3D printing is an engaging way to directly interact and communicate with consumers, but at the moment, it is all about optimising the testing and learning opportunities with small and affordable production lines used to gain market intelligence that is helping brands stay ahead of their competitors.