Customizing your product is possible today, and the result can be a high end, functional product. Here’s how.
There is a lot of unclarity in the market if 3D printing is able to produce high end, functional products, while it can be the key to customize your products! The unclarity mostly comes from unawareness of the variety of 3D printing technologies and uprise of post processing methods. The BMW group shows that 3D printing can be used for high end consumer products with it’s Mini Cooper customization feature.
1) Customize your Mini Cooper
Yes it’s pretty cool. When buying a new Mini Cooper, you can customize a couple of parts in your car. Two of the parts are produced with industrial 3D printers, the dashboard cover and side scuttles.
Can I customize the entire part?
No you can’t and the reason is simple. Imagine you would be able to customize the entire part, then everyone that would want to do this would need to have modeling skills. The way Mini approached it is to work with a rendering framework that allows customers to change a fixed set of things, the color, the texture, add icons and add text:
You have a choice of 5 colors. The reason for this could be design related, as Mini probably wants to match colors to the color of the car. Though it’s good to know that printing of these parts is done almost always in 1 color: White. Changing the color means a post processing step, and adding a new color means a new post production process.
With 7 different patterns you can customize the structure of the part. The structure when selected will be engraved in the product. The following patterns are currently available:
To make your Mini Cooper a bit more personal you can add various icons. Although it’s a nice feature it would be even better to be able to add a company logo. The following icons are available:
A very straight forward but nice feature, add your own text to your Mini! Our company car would have the following side scuttle!
2. Customizing your own products
Customization of product on this scale is something rather new, but through the current technologie it becomes very accessible. There are a few companies that have the goal to democratize product development, meaning everyone will be making their own products. Though this could be the future, currently it’s just not that simple. Not everyone has modeling skills or an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of 3D printing and even the time to do this. That’s why we believe that companies will be offering customizable products, more and more. Where the company defines the products basic form and function and adds layers of limited customization to it. Just like Mini did, where the products form is set and the detailing can be adjusted. To explain what you need to start customizing your own products we will take the Mini Cooper as an example.
What do you need?
To start customizing your products you need to add new skills to your team and create new processes. To understand what is needed we will analyse the Mini Cooper product. *Helicopter view* Looking at the Mini Cooper product it looks as follows:
The user interface
The biggest difference between “conventional” product development and customizable product development is the connection with a digital user interface. The user interface is needed to customize your product and has 2 components.
- Basic form and function of your product.
- Intuitive ways to customize the desired features of your product.
Developing this interface means coding the customizable features into your 3D model and connect it to an online tool. Very import here is that no matter what the customer changes to your product, it needs to be within the possibilities of your Additive Manufacturing technology. It sounds cool, but it’s not something most product development teams are able to do. It’s a completely different skillset that is difficult to develop in your company. That’s why most company use external tools to customize their products. Examples of customization tools are Twikit (www.twikit.com, used by Mini) and Caboma (www.caboma.com). These tools can be integrated onto your website and give customers the ability to make every product personal.
The output of the user interface is the product your customer wants in the form a 3D model. This 3D model needs to be prepared for 3D printing. The way it needs to be prepared vary from the technologie you use. In the case of Mini it is manufactured using SLS printing where the preparation is very limited. 3D printing the actual part is done in batches using systems like EOMer EOS markets. The most common material here is Nylon 12. The printers are fairly expensive, but can produce hundreds of parts per day.
Once the printing process is done the parts need to be post processed, since SLS parts are always white and a bit porous. To solve this challenge companies either develop their own post processing methods or buy off the shelf solution like the one DyeMansion offers.
Once this is done the personal product of your customer is ready! To give it some finishing touches you might want to ship it in a custom package :).
3. Get started today
Yup, here it comes! The reason why we write these kind of articles: We support companies in becoming successful with 3D printing & Additive Manufacturing. And developing your own customizable products is a great strategy to distinct yourself from the rest of your market! With our skills and experience we make sure that you will be a frontrunner in your market, making sure you increase brand awareness and sales with highly personal products.