Not long ago, I broke the plastic spout on a big glass drink-dispensing canister I’ve had for years. It’s still functional, but much more difficult to use, and I’m just annoyed. I’m the kind of person who tries to repair everything rather than throwing things out if at all possible – it’s the obsessive environmentalist in me – but I’m pretty stuck on this one. It just seems like a shame to get rid of a perfectly good device just because a little piece has broken off.
I think that French company Boulanger has the right idea, therefore, one which seems to be catching on lately. The giant retailer sells just about every household essential you can think of, from refrigerators to TVs to kitchen tools (like my drink canister) and even personal drones. Boulanger has been around for over 60 years, and in 2014 they began selling 3D printers – currently, they offer 21 different models. The company’s investment in 3D printing just got even bigger, as they’re now offering a service that will allow customers to download and 3D print replacement parts for their Boulanger products in the comfort of their own homes (or hubs).
The service, called happy3D, was developed in partnership with 3D printing platform Cults3D and personal services company B’dom, which dispatches professionals to customer’s homes to assist with installation, maintenance and training related to electronics. Boulanger customers who visit the happy3D site will find 3D printable files for parts such as refrigerator feet, oven knobs, vacuum cleaner nozzles, and more – and that’s just the beginning of what will eventually be available. Currently, 3D files are provided for Essentiel b and Listo brand products.
“To slow product obsolescence, customers must be able to repair their own high-tech devices and household appliances. It’s in this spirit that Boulanger decided to launch the world’s first spare parts open source hub called the ‘Happy 3D’ platform,” said Gaële Wuilmet, Director of Boulanger Services & Innovation and of B’dom. “This is the first time ever that a company has published the blueprints of its own exclusive brands for the general public. In doing so, Boulanger hopes that other major brands will soon follow our lead. If our customers’ products break, they can now download a template for the replacement spare part, and easily manufacture them on a 3D printer. To make up for a scarcity of 3D printers, Boulanger will also put its customers in contact with a nearby 3D printer owner and train them in how to print in 3D via B’dom.”
Many manufacturing companies have expressed worry about 3D printing and its threat to intellectual property and ensuing loss of revenue. Rather than coming back to the manufacturer for replacement parts, people can just scan their old parts and 3D print new ones, and where does that leave the manufacturers themselves? Nonsense, says Boulanger, that’s exactly what people should be doing – and by making it easier for them to do so, the company is likely to attract more customers.
Downloads are free and can be printed on a customer’s home 3D printer or sent out to a 3D Hub or other service. For customers who are unfamiliar with 3D printing, that’s where B’dom steps in. The company has developed a two-and-a-half hour training session called “My 3D Printer and Me,” in which a representative will come to your home and instruct you in how to install, configure, and use a 3D printer. Right now it’s only available in Paris, for a cost of €229 (half of which is tax-deductible).
I agree wholeheartedly with what Boulanger is doing, and I hope, as well, that other companies will follow their lead. A lot of waste and frustration could be eliminated if customers could just print out their own replacement parts and easily repair their devices rather than having to go through the hassle of calling a repair service or, for smaller items, throwing them out altogether. How about it, Target? Discuss your thoughts and ideas on this further over in the Boulanger 3D Printed Replacement Parts forum at 3DPB.com.