Can you tell us a little about Shapie Me? 

Shapie Me is a neutral platform for the storage, manipulation and output of 3D body scans. We offer secure personal accounts and hope to offer customers a lifetime relationship.

Users create free accounts to store personal and family scans. We initially offer 3D printed output where body prints can be ordered in a variety of materials including full colour prints, but body scans have relevance to virtual clothes fitting systems, health and fitness products, gaming and VR avatars and many other marketing purposes. 

Our main concern is with developing access points for body scanning. This will manifest itself as a searchable global network of Scan Hubs where body scanning is available.

While this niche may seem obscure, it has been enthusiastically taken up by the likes of Asda, who are using high end body scanning booths across the UK to produce full colour body prints. We believe this is going to become a huge industry in the next few years.

3D printing has been talked about for some time now, but how advanced is the technology at the moment? 

3D printing is developing fast. It is, after all, a more than 30 year old technology. For most of that time it’s been the preserve of high end technologies controlled by a few manufacturers and used for very specific purposes.

Now, with the expiration of various patents and the introduction of networks and open source developments, a vast array of things are happening.

The established companies are still coming up with bigger, better and faster machines designed to fit with customer demand, but that demand is changing.

The key developments are in materials, speed and size. So we now see printers using multiple materials in one pass, the development of a huge range of specialist materials and the introduction of machines that can print on a large scale.

As demand pushes supply, the world of 3D printing has developed into an ecosystem that offers more solutions for every user. The quality of production is certainly there as, for example, aerospace companies are now printing parts for production aeroplanes.

Is it close to having a mass market appeal or does the cost of 3D printing mean it will be a premium market for some time? 

3D printing has suffered from difficulties in variety of areas: it can be expensive, technically challenging and limited in materials.

However, all these issues are changing fast. The growth of bureaus such as Shapeways or iMaterialise have brought access to production to a much wider audience. The much anticipated entry of HP into the 3D print market next year is already causing ripples and may be the point at which 3D printers become much more widely available.

However, the output element is just one part of a complex jigsaw puzzle. How objects are designed, how 3D files are created, the integration of 3D printing with other parts of the production puzzle, all of these are just as important in the race to mass market.

I would anticipate a 3D printer on every high street with a few years, but giving everyone tools to create files for output – that is a different issue.

How can 3D printing be used by marketers? 

3D printing is going to change everything and open up channels and processes that we haven’t even started to imagine yet.

We believe that 3D printing might just change the way you do business – or at least give your next marketing campaign wings.  

When considering what use 3D printing can be for marketing it is important to see the technology as part of a mix rather than as a solution in its own right. I am fascinated by the potential that 3D printing has for creative projects and look forward to seeing what marketers come up with.

My view is that you need to start with what 3D printing is actually good for, rather than trying to shoehorn it into an existing worldview.

If you need Quick. Customized. Inexpensive. Available. Changeable.Adaptable. as part of your project, then 3D printing may deliver for you, but it’s going to be complex. 

Here are some possible uses:  

  • Give away 1m objects, each different
  • Extension of an existing character
  • Replacements/repairs
  • Invent and print new character or product
  • Miniature of your new product for the launch.

  • Unique souvenirs
  • Momentos of events
  • Product samples
  • Prints with scannable RFC chips embedded
  • Add-ons to existing product
  • Those things you used to get in cereal packets?

  • Partworks
  • Subscription projects
  • Rewards
  • Tokens, coins, medals, awards.

Do you see it having an impact on ecommerce in the short to medium term? Printing small clothing items, or perhaps car parts for instance? 

3D printing is already having an impact on ecommerce, but it hasn’t quite broken out into the mainstream.

It remains specialist and somewhat gimmicky, hidden away in a part of the internet where early adopters hang out. However, this is largely just a matter of timing and technology.

There are plenty of companies straining to bring 3D print projects to wide audiences, such as Digital Forming, which has a project with Argos to use the platform for jewellery customisation.

Although this is an exciting development, I am convinced that the sort of tools that Digital Forming have hold out much more potential than simple end customer jewellery production. 

What are some of the best uses of 3D printing you’ve seen? 

As I have a friend who lost one of her hands many years ago, I have been following the development of 3D printed prosthetics avidly.

Distributed development, keen amateur involvement and a willing ‘customer’ base is driving something unique.

The idea is that every prosthetic needs to be different, yet the fundamental design is the same. With a lot of people working around the world on different ideas, distributing the results as open source files and allowing others to use them on small 3D printers, we’re seeing some startling results.

Children in third world countries who might never have got a personalised prosthetic are now having them printed by local amateurs

How do you see 3D printing disrupting existing business models? 

What I believe is that we are at the start of a huge disruption that is incredibly hard to predict.

A lot of what I hear about 3D printing is exactly what I heard about the web at the start of the 1990s. It doesn’t do much, it’s pretty but useless, it’s not a serious tool, it’s a fad.

And now look at not only the web, but the vast infrastructure, the networks and the tools, the way it’s changed almost every aspect of our lives.

The details were not predictable, but the potential was. I feel the same about 3D printing: utilising the internet it will rapidly grow into an industry with ramifications far beyond the crude tools we see today. 

We stiill have a few tickets left for next week’s Future of Digital Marketing conference, but you’ll need to be quick…