Kids used to have a fairly limited choice when buying their own My Little Pony. No more. Imagine getting to decide exactly what colour your pony’s hair is. Or what the saddle looks like. Now kids can customise their own unique toy, thanks to the innovations of 3D printing.
The toy industry is among the biggest beneficiaries of the technology. Toys already tend to be small and made out of plastic, making it easy to 3D print them.
McKinsey estimates the total economic impact of 3D printing technology will be $US230-$550 billion per year by 2025, $US100-$300 billion of which will be direct consumer products such as toys.
My Little Pony rolled out a microsite called SuperFanArt that lets you sift through unique models for you to have 3D printed. You can also sign up to design the models that are featured on the site.
Hasbro announced a partnership with 3D Systems in February to “deliver new immersive, creative play experiences.” And in June it filed a patent that may hint at a 3D printing platform for Transformers.
The patent mentions “toy action figures” and discusses a “technology that enables users to download, modify, and share three-dimensional designs on the Internet for use with computer driven machines for making three-dimensional embodiments of the designs.”
But Hasbro’s not the only player integrating 3D printing into the toy industry. One company called Makies lets kids design their own doll online and then bring it life. You can customise everything down to the ears and mouth of the doll.
A company called That’sMyFace.com even lets you upload a picture of yourself and then create an action figure with your face.
And then there’s general 3D printing marketplaces like Shapeways that have toy categories. There are about 4,200 toys available on the site, each with the option to customise, whether by colour or even material of the toy. For instance, this “Deicidium blade” (which may mean something to Transformer fans) can be printed in three different kinds of plastic and in six different colours.
3D printing enables creativity, which is always a good thing for the toy industry.
“I think children have a creative need to try to do something different so I think 3D printing with the capability of scanning or taking input from digital data makes it relatively simple to do customisation of the product,” Jon Cobb, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Stratasys told Business Insider.
But besides for creativity, it also speeds up and simplifies the manufacturing process of making toys, which in turn lowers the cost.
For instance Mattel uses 3D printers for its brands like Hot Wheels and Barbie simply as a more efficient way to manufacture the toys.
3D printing is even enabling new research in the toy industry. Disney researchers have used 3D printing to figure out how to make oddly-shaped spinning tops that remain balanced by designing an algorithm that prints the object with strategically placed hollow spaces to keep the weight centered.
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