3D Printing in Retail – The Impact on Maritime

As discussed in the parent post, 3D Printing for Maritime – Hype or New Business Model?, 3D printing in retail is at the top of the hype curve, i.e., “peak hype,” for the technology. Punch into Google “3D Printing in Retail,” and you get 58.6 million results…not bad. Scroll beyond the ads for companies offering to help retail transition into 3D printing, and you’ll find a few articles highlighting some of the real innovation that the industry is seeing. We’ve collected some of the best examples here.

This article is part of a broader series on 3D Printing for Maritime.

3D Printed Clothes

There are two exciting developments in the realm of 3D printed clothes. The first is the advent of brands like Danit Peleg, that offer fully customized and printed garments for sale online. While their production capacity is limited, this seems to be as much a branding choice as it is a manufacturing one. Despite their limited quantity (and relatively expensive unit cost), they are garments that are in demand.

The second advent is the application of “3D printing” technologies into knitting more traditional clothing items like jackets. US-based Ministry of Supply has implemented a Japanese-built machine for 3D printing knitted clothing. Customers visit the shop, configure their custom jacket, and it is printed before their eyes over the course of about 90 minutes.

3D Printed Shoes

Major brands like Adidas, Nike, and New Balance, have all begun manufacturing components of their shoes using 3D printing techniques. These include midsoles, uppers, and soles respectfully. In essence, spread across these three brands are all the makings for a fully printed shoe. It isn’t so far-fetched to envisage a shopping experience where your foot is scanned, and a custom shoe is printed in-shop for you. While the goal of a fully printed shoe is still some time off, there are many advancements with several companies making progress. Having said that, the primary use of 3D printing in the shoe industry today is still in the widespread application of rapid prototyping.

3D Printed Furniture and Homewares

Unlike clothing and shoes, whose materials make it challenging to print these items at home, furniture and homewares are making steady progress. Bits and Parts is an organization that aims to make furniture available to all by utilizing downloadable 3D Printing designs. Currently, you can download CAD files for three “puzzle” chairs that you can print and assemble yourself. Olivier van Herpt is revolutionizing the concept of ceramics with high-end 3D printed ceramic wear. As with Danit Peleg, their market is clearly the premium end of the market, but it isn’t long-sighted to see the print-at-shop and print-at-home business models taking hold here. IKEA has been prototyping customized chairs using 3D printing using the print-in-shop model.

Highly Customized Product Solutions

While we’re on the iconic brand of IKEA, it is worth talking about their ThisAbles project, which utilizes 3D printed, highly customized product solutions to increase the quality of life of disabled users. “By bridging the gap between existing IKEA products and the special needs of people belonging to the [special use] populations,” they aim to improve the usability of off-the-shelf products.


Another great example of customized product solutions using a print-in-shop business model is Lowe’s, in the US market, where you can print customized products and outdated replacement parts as needed. While it seems that the demand for this service is still low (pun not intended), the service still seems to be on offer five years after its launch showing that there is some demand.

Bespoke Retail Products

The final example is one of clever marketing. In 2014, yes, six years ago, Nescafe put together an innovative marketing campaign using 3D printed lids for heir standard product jars that doubled as alarm clocks. Users had to open the coffee jar, releasing the aroma of coffee to turn off the alarm clock. “Clever” is perhaps an understatement for the campaign. 3D printing was central in allowing the company to produce a limited, custom-made run of the lids.

The Impact on Maritime?

Most of these examples revolve around a dramatic shift in what is shipped and where. When the final retail shop or end consumer is the destination of unrefined manufacturing inputs and not the finished goods, one can easily envisage a dramatic overhaul of the entire supply chain. It isn’t far-fetched to see container loads of raw, 3D printing materials (thread, plastics, metals, rubbers, and other synthetic materials) being imported to countries that would have typically been importing finished goods, to facilitate the 3D printing retail boom.

Further, it is worth thinking about the source location and the size of supply chains in the future. Is it safe to assume that raw commodities are going to have a need to travel as far across the supply chain. Will China remain the powerhouse that it is if all you need to produce finished goods is raw plastic, metal, or other inputs.

Finally, the impact on inland and last-mile delivery is likely going to change too. Instead of large format trucks shipping bulky finished end products, it’s likely that we’ll see smaller vehicles performing a higher number of bespoke runs – much like what we see in the last mile of parcel shipping today which of course will have their own flow on impacts.

Does your current long-term port or terminal planning include hypothetical scenarios where your volumes dramatically increase (or decrease, for that matter) as a result of changes in how goods are produced?

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About the authors

  • Matthew Wittemeier

    Matthew Wittemeier is Director Marketing and Sales at INFORM's Terminal & Distribution Center Logistics Division where he’s become a thought-provoking contributor to many industry publications and conferences. He’s also co-author of the award winning 2038: A Smart Port Story - a story about the future of technology and the social challenges it may bring.

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  • Karsten Schumacher is a Senior Consultant for INFORM’s Logistics Division where he’s acquired nearly a decade of experience across various logistics projects as project lead. He holds a Bachelor degree in Business Studies from the university of Applied Science in Aachen.

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