Industry Views - December 2013

Glimpses Into the Future

Nate Graham, cultural strategist for sparks & honey, a next generational cultural identification agency, was the guest speaker at the annual Home Fashion Products Association meeting held in New York on Nov. 13, 2013. His presentation offered a glimpse into concepts that may significantly impact manufacturing and consumer mindsets in the future. Below are highlights from his presentation.

Graham explains that we’ve lived in a linear world up until now, but today developments are happening exponentially. Expecting linear change can be a blind spot for suppliers and retailers.

One of the exponential trends Graham believes will reshape society in the future is 3D printing. What’s being printed? In the past, it had been mainly industrial components, but today virtually any object that is manufactured traditionally can be created through 3D printing.

For examples of 3D-printed objects, from art and fashion pieces, to household items, tools, gadgets and toys, visit thingiverse.com. According to its website, MakerBot’s Thingiverse is a “thriving design community for discovering, making and sharing 3D printable things. As the world’s largest 3D printing community, we believe that everyone should be encouraged to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience.”

Just in case you’re thinking that perhaps 3D printing is largely a plastics/metal-centric process, Graham showed an image of a dress made with 3D-printed material. Can pillowcases be far behind?

The idea of customizing products is not new. Currently, New Balance offers shoes that are truly custom. Not only are superficial aspects, such as style and color, custom, but other factors involved in shoe make-up, such as size, orthotics and amount of cushioning required based on the person’s weight, are fitted to suit specific individuals. Even 3D on-demand personal clothing is possible.

The ability to print standard or custom items will create in the consumer the loss of a sense of permanence if a replacement for an item can be easily printed.

The demand for customization may lead to consumer-centric, hyper-local manufacturing in the U.S.. Graham notes that lessening wage gaps with China has made certain U.S. states more attractive as inexpensive locations for manufacturing plants.

With consumers designing and tweaking product options, there will be copyright issues to sort out, but virtually anyone, Graham suggests, will be able to become a producer of 3D-printed goods. Product designs can go “viral” via the internet and gain mass appeal very quickly.

With the increased interest in 3D printing, Graham believes will come “an explosion of new materials.” He points to real-life experiments even today with lab-grown meat and leather.

And finally, there will also be growth in the robotics field, which will greatly impact manufacturing as well. Stay tuned!


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