T he possibilities of 3D printing are endless. It is a technology that finds new applications on a daily basis. It is considered to be the next greatest chapter in the industrial revolution. Perhaps, your industrial revolution. 3D printers have the ability to democratize the process of manufacture; allowing every individual to become a manufacturer themselves. The toy industry, which produces the majority of its products in rigid plastic, is particularly susceptible to the disruptive effects 3D printing.
The first ever inkjet colour printer designed specifically for consumers had a price tag of over $1500. Fast forward and a good quality inkjet printer can now be bought for under $50 and is in the majority of households. Similar to the ink jet printer, as the cost of 3D printers continue to drop, homes will slowly evolve to the point where it will be the norm to own one.
Once 3D printing becomes a commonly used household device, the technology is capable of changing the whole paradigm of how children see, and comprehend innovation and manufacturing. More and more parents will start to take notice of the creative and educational aspects of it, which could then result in a big change in society where toys are produced at home.
Currently, the majority of major toy companies don’t seem to be phased by desktop 3D printers due to their industry being substantially more profitable. However, based on the drastic rise in popularity of 3D printers and an increase in the number of applications, this new industry is sure to catch up. To put this theory into perspective, the toy and game market is currently worth $86.3Bn. It is expected to grow at a slow rate, showing an annual growth rate of 4.5% and is predicted to reach a global value of $133.7Bn by 2027. On the other hand, the 3D printing market valued at $2.5Bn in 2013 is now already worth $6.9 Bn. This explosive growth trend will continue, with global value reaching $55.8 billion by 2027 at a high compound annual growth rate of 23.7%. As the gap between these two industries continues to shrink, the effect of Desktop 3D printing on the toy industry will become increasingly noticeable.
T o probe the potential economic impact of 3D printing on the toy industry, a study was published by researchers from Michigan Tech university. The study was in collaboration with popular online 3D repository called MyMiniFactory. The study used data recorded from the 100 most downloaded 3D toy files and compared them to the costs of similar commercially available toys. These downloadable toys ranged from Pokemon figures, Batman cowls, model guns, action figure helmets, Harry Potter wands and countless other unique items. This study also took into account the average cost of plastic filament and electricity to run a 3D printer. Extrapolated over a year, these results indicate that, just from 100 toys, MyMiniFactory is saving consumers well over $60 million annually. Considering the fact that there are millions of other free downloadable 3D files across the internet, it’s safe to say that 3D printing is already having a macroeconomic impact on the toy industry. Once 3D printers become more commonly used, the economic impacts are bound to become problematic to the industry unless they try to tackle this impending threat.
H asbro and Mattel are both are taking advantage of being the first major toy companies to implement 3D printing into their merchandise by experimenting with a range of different innovative strategies. Firstly, Hasbro decided to test the market base by collaborating with one of the leading online 3D printing repositories named Shapeways. Hasbro open sourced their intellectual property of G.I Joe, Monopoly, My little Pony, and the Transformers to let fans legally design 3D printed products. They let them choose the price of their products themselves while taking a small cut on the proceeds. Hence most of the exploratory work related to this new venture had been taken on by the fans themselves. (Rayna, and Striukova 2016)
Another one of Hasbro’s co-ventures is with a new company named 3DPlusMe. This collaboration allows children to create action figures with their own faces by utilising Hasbro’s Marvel rights and 3DPlusMe’s ability to replicate faces in 3D. The customer is then able to print their own personalized hero. In contrast, Mattel are tackling this impendence by producing their own “ThingMaker” 3D printer in collaboration with AutoDesk. They plan to deliver new, immersive, creative play, by combining Mattel’s world-renowned portfolio of consumer brands, with AutoDesk’s powerful portfolio of 3D printing platforms. The ongoing success of these collaborations prove that there are opportunities with desktop 3D printing for the toy and game industries. That 3D printing technologies don’t have to be threat, and can prove to change the industry for the better.
A ll in all, the decrease in the cost of 3D printers and the rise in number of free open source designs seems inevitable. It appears clear that desktop 3D printing is set to have a substantial impact on the toy industry. This technology gives customers the ability to create and design their own toys and sell those designs. It’s an ideal win-win for kids and adults alike.
Toy companies could open source all of their 3D printable plastic products and focus solely on pushing the boundaries of innovative play. The first few toy companies to implement desktop 3D printing into their supply chain, like Hasbro, will give themselves a noticeable head start and will certainly benefit from the possibilities of this ever-improving technology.
It’s time for the toy industry to evolve. The future of toys is being printed as we speak.
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