Recently, both Adidas and Nike revealed that they are using 3D printing technology to create prototype versions of footwear products. As Barry Silverstein reported in Brandchannel.com:
Nike's Innovation Director Shane Kohatsu told FT [Financial Times], "Within six months we were able to go through twelve rounds of prototype iterations that we fully tested, and ultimately we were able to make super dramatic improvements to our products." There are no current plans to use the technology to mass produce shoes, but that could be down the road. "What's really intriguing for us is not the volumes that you can make," said Kohatsu. "It's really more how rapidly you can make changes."
Adidas has seen similar benefits, informing FT that 3D printers have cut the evaluation time for a new prototype to a few days from four to six weeks. While Adidas previously relied on prototypes handmade by twelve technicians, they can now produce prototypes with two people.
3D printing is still an emerging technology, but this particular application should be exciting to any company developing a new product. Product prototyping is essential in new product development, but it tends to be costly and time-consuming. 3D printing could significantly change the equation.
That's not all 3D printing could change. This technology is currently being tested in a wide variety of areas to manufacture all sorts of consumer and industrial products -- even food. Read more about all that 3D printing can do in the coverage by Mashable.
If you make or market products, there's a good chance 3D printing will be in your future.
Update: An article about 3D printing appeared in the June 19 edition of The New York Times.
Barry Silverstein is the author of the eGuide, Product Launch 123: Launch a New Product or Service in 3 Proven Steps. He also teaches an online course, Big Brand Strategies for Small Brands.