Sunday, September 28, 2014

3-D Scanning: Now for the Everyman?

The readings this week provided insight into a variety of topics concerning using technology to manage inventory and a company’s supply chain. A topic that I found very intriguing was the concept of mass customization from our Mckinsey article, particularly the idea of using 3-D scanning and modeling to assist in delivery consumer products[1].

Currently, 3-D scanning and printing is becoming a commonplace practice in the medical and dental field. Scans of bones, joints, and teeth can be taken and 3-D printed, eliminating the need for a donor in some cases. 3-D printing has even begun with organs, and the market for 3D dental and medical printing is expected to increase by 365% by the year 2025[2]. With some fine-tuning, it is easy to see the direction that 3-D scanning is taking healthcare delivery, and illustrates the large benefit that could be gleaned from advancements in this field. Included here is a short clip of 3-D scanning and printing of a dental mold:

As 3-D scanners decrease in cost, many technology companies have tapped into making them publicly accessible for the masses. BodyLabs, a world leader in digital body platform software, has recently launched a beta release of their BodySnap app. This app enables any person to use a Microsoft Kinect device to take full body scans and create very accurate 3-D models of themselves online. The tester simply sits in front of the device and takes 4 body length pictures from different orientations and 2 facial portraits:

BodyLabs markets their software as an opportunity to afford customers "customer clothing design and production" and even partners with Mixamo Fuse to allow customers a chance to be their own avatar for video games[3]. BodyLabs is just one of many companies offering these services, other organizations such as MakerBot and Volumental have similar offerings, but the appeal of BodySnap really stems from their affordable partnership with Microsoft.

The concept of custom-made clothing online reminded me of a scene from the 90’s cult classic Clueless, where Alicia Silverstone has a legendary computerized closet that shows her not only how things look on her, but whether or not they are fashionably sound combinations.

Not too far a deviation from current online shopping practices or those seen in the clip above, imagine if a person could use a 3-D scanning device (located right next to the WebCam on their laptop) to upload themselves onto a clothing site and could “try on” anything they liked there itself? This could potentially eliminate any need for even going to a store, especially in combination with companies like Zappos, as discussed in class, that allow free shipping and free returns.

While I enjoy going out with my friends and family to a mall or shopping center, I wouldn’t mind avoiding the busier holiday times or impulse “final sale” items that I really should have tried on before I left the store. Bringing a chance to see yourself in your product or with your product without the pressure of lines, sales people, and impulsive shopping, offers a large market opportunity. 

Could 3-D scanning replace current supply chain practices altogether or will there always be a need for warehouses of inventory? Or in slight contrast, could 3-D scanning replace the need for distributors and eventually manufacturers will only need warehouses for keep inventory?



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