3D printing: the accelerator for new product development

This week my daughter turns 6 and I’ve spent my evenings frantically trying to find out where I can buy a personalised cake. But on my travels I came across something much more exciting – personalised, 3D printed sweets!

German company Katjes Fassin, which produces a range of gummy sweets, is set to bring 3D printed confectionary to the UK. With plans to introduce 3D printers into retail outlets by early next year, it’s evident that the company is hoping that the technology will enable them to meet two consumer needs: the desire for greater personalisation as well as for a more engaging experience in-store, which came out strongly in our latest research into the future of shopping.

But actually for me the real implications of 3D printing, particularly in categories such as confectionary and food, go far beyond this and extend into a more exciting realm entirely: the new product development process.

The integration of 3D printing into the new product development process could be transformational, enabling companies to rapidly produce prototypes which can be tested and, in the case of food and drink, tasted by consumers. These 3D prototypes can then be rapidly optimised to better meet consumer needs before the final product is launched.

Not only does this would this accelerate the speed of product development but gaining consumer feedback at these very early stages would also result in stronger products which have a greater chance of succeeding within highly competitive marketplaces.

Whilst this may sound like a pipedream, using 3D printing this purpose is already becoming a reality. Since 2013, Cadbury’s innovation team has been using 3D printers as part of their new product development process to help them create fast-turnaround prototypes of potential new products.

3D printing could also be brought to bear even earlier in the innovation process, for example, during co-creation workshops with consumers. Harnessing the technology at this stage could help to bring early ideas to life in a way which has not been possible to date.

With such exciting implications for product development research, we thought it was only right that we started experimenting with the technology ourselves. So far, we’ve used our 3D printer to create 3D models of our brand icon, Rufous the hummingbird but we’re looking forward to harnessing it for client projects in future.