The video on mobile phone 3D scanning is clearly just the beginning. It isn’t hard to imagine that 3D scanning via a mobile device will continue to get better. For that matter how long until even more hardware constrained devices like Google Glass are able to do decent 3D scanning?
The obvious tie to 3D scanning is then being able to reproduce that thing with 3D printing. At the low end there are a number of 3D printers available that people will use at home, but right now I don’t find that super compelling at scale. A higher end consumer service that would be able to keep up with the type of demand generated by every mobile phone being able to 3D scan an object is much more interesting.
A higher quality large scale 3D printing operation could bring in additional capabilities, like a broader range of materials and a faster turn around time.
All of this gets me wondering what companies are in a good position to take advantage of this. Amazon feels like a natural fit, a company that isn’t shy about tech and already ships packages all over. What Amazon lacks is the immediate satisfaction vector. Ideally I’d like to send off my 3D print request then go pick it up later the same day, perhaps even paying more for a faster turn around time. That leads me to companies with a decent number of existing stores. Walmart is the giant there, and certainly has the reach to pull something like that off. But it doesn’t match well with their generally low end price range.
The company I find most interesting to pull off a large scale high quality 3D printing service is Home Depot. They don’t have the delivery capabilities of Amazon or the massive store count of Walmart, but they strike the right balance with existing customers. There are enough Home Depot locations to have a decent reach and people already come into their stores often looking for odds and ends, while at the same time having no problem spending money on bigger ticket items.
One area that I think a 3D printing service at Home Depot could really shine is the in between part level. It isn’t uncommon to need a small replacement part for something that is only sold as part of a much larger thing. But you don’t want to buy the larger component, just the small piece that is broken. At that point Home Depot could just print one for you.
Then there is the whole world of custom designed one off parts that Home Depot would then be able to attract. Printing things that haven’t existed before, or at least not in large numbers.
Executing on this idea wouldn’t be easy, that is also exactly why Home Depot should do it. The economics will be against you at first, but by getting in sooner rather than later Home Depot would gain the experience necessary to figure out how to make the economics work.