3D Printing is Leading the Custom-Made Evolution to Make Your Things Better Fit You


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3D printing is becoming a disruptive technology and will soon be leaving some big names wondering: ‘Why didn’t I think of this first?’. Prototypes and end-use parts made with 3D printing are taking in a chunk out of some of the most profitable industries, such as healthcare, aerospace, fashion and footwear (just to name a few). Especially when a customized fit is a key factor 3D printing is making huge gains. Having conquered the In The Ear hearing aid market in around 36 months, can 3D printing do the same with other product categories? One of the most recent possibilities is eyewear. Fuel3D (a provider of 3D capture and measurement solutions) has just completed the largest ever consumer study into how 3D fitted eyewear is costing opticians and eyewear retailers 26 billion dollars a year.

According to the report Delivering a Fitted Experience in Eyewear, poor fitting eyewear impacts brands and how people shop. The report delves into the importance of fit on buyer experience in the United Kingdom and United States markets and shows that more than one in four adults struggle to find eyewear that fits and as a result more than half (55%) end up leaving eyewear stores empty handed. Also, nearly half of eyewear purchases are returned or have to be adjusted due to poor fit, resulting in further negative financial impacts.

“Buying eyewear should be easy and fun yet people struggle to find the right fit and don’t enjoy the experience. The eyewear industry is treating every face as the same size and shape, resulting in ill-fitting eyewear which is costing retailers, opticians and brands lost customers and sales. It’s time for a more personalised approach,” suggested George Thaw, CEO of Fuel3D.

Accurate facial analysis to fit the custom made glasses

Despite eyewear’s increasing prominence in fashion, when buying glasses or sunglasses, fit is the most important factor. Out of 4,536 adults in the UK and the US who participated in the study, 44% said they prioritise fit, 33% price and 23% style. And while faced with a bewildering choice of frames, both online and in-store, one in three adults don’t like shopping for eyewear or visiting the optician and one in five don’t like having to try on different frames, highlighting the need to improve the customer experience. Almost 90% of people would happily try something different if they could find the right fit. This is where 3D printing makes a disruptive move. Fuel3D has developed FitsYou, an innovative 3D capture and fitting platform that harnesses the power of AR and AI to empower opticians and retailers to provide a superior personalised service through best-fit recommendations and fully customised eyewear, in-store and online. Through a personal 3D facial scan they can deliver a more accurate and better fitting experience.

An Augmented Reality experience of made-to-fit glasses

“People are crying out for a better fit and a better buying experience. FitsYou delivers perfectly measured 3D fitting, a personalised selection of glasses, guaranteed perfect fit, encourages customer loyalty and gives opticians and retailers a compelling competitive advantage in a retail landscape where the new size is custom,” said Karl Turley, Chief Marketing Officer of Fuel3D.

The perfect pair: a personalised frame, size, shape and colour

In addition to struggling to find the right fit, the study show that the biggest bugbears when buying eyewear are:

  • Waiting for glasses or sunglasses to be produced -disliked by 64% of adults.
  • Having to revisit the optician to collect or check the fit -disliked by 59% of adults.
  • Having to take a prescription to another store -disliked by 58% of adults.

In every industry where custom manufacturing is needed, 3D printing is becoming more essential. Many startups are growing by making 3D printing technology the core of their business model, defying traditional manufacturing and service providers for the customer-perfect fit. Like Mani.me, a Palo Alto-based startup that uses 3D printing to create ready-to-wear designer manicures taylor made to their customers with 3D scanning. Other companies like, Ministry of Supply, best-known for their alternative approach to solving the most common complaints people have with their clothing, are using 3D printing to engineer their knits with a pattern that takes into account your joints, and other areas that get the most strain on during the day. 

Mani.me makes taylor fit, ready to wear manicures with 3D scanning

Feetz, a company that makes custom 3D printed shoes, one of many trying to reap in profits from the billion dollar athletic footwear market, which according to the last Grand View Research report from last year, size in this industry is expected to reach 95.14 billion dollars by 2025, still, it is hard to tell what percent of that will go to 3D printed shoes. But the sporting industry immersion into 3D printing does not end there, Autodesk and researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are currently collaborating to print football helmets and Royal DSM is 3D printing a mouthguard. That is one of the sporting market products which might just need the most accuracy and perzonalization, to avoid it from falling out or fitting poorly resulting in an injury. Other endeavours include customized golf clubs, lacrosse sticks and tennis rackets. 

Similarly, 3D dental milling technology can deliver products faster than any lab, and with over 500 startups, it is now possible to get an accurate 3D model of the patient’s teeth and 3D dental restoration. A report from SmarTech Publishing expects that revenues in 3D printed dentistry will grow to $3.7 billion by 2021, that’s 10% out of the entire global dental medical technology market.

On another front, the World Health Organization estimates that there are over 30 million people worldwide in need of artificial prosthetic limbs and braces, yet less than 20% have them. This is a crucial area of healthcare where 3D printing has been making mayor headlines. Traditionally, the process of getting a prosthetic limb can take anywhere from weeks to months. But as 3D printers become more affordable, having a prosthetic limb might not be considered a luxury anymore. Many startups are developing bionic prosthesis and exoskeletons and open-source initiatives such as Enable let anyone with a 3D printer customize and create a prosthetic hand. So commercially made prosthetics, that could cost well over 5,000 dollars, are down to 50 or even free, thanks to NGO’s. With the 3D printing medical devices market that could be worth U$S 1.88 billion by 2022, it customizable healthcare sounds like a good bet.

2018 was a good year for additive manufacturing. According to the most recent Wohlers Report, in 2017, the industry, consisting of all AM products and services worldwide, grew 21% to $7.336 billion, while a surprising number of large 1 to 5 billion dollar companies (many of which are unfamiliar to most of us) are investing in AM research and development. With this technology being so disruptive, we should see even more ways to incorporate it into the product development and manufacturing operations of most companies aiming to make taylor made products, but according to Wohlers there are still some challenges holding the process back from complete widespread adoption. Limitations such as equipment costs, limited materials, post-processing requirements and lack of expertise or training among workforce employees are retarding 3D printing’s growth.

Actually, according to manufacturing solutions provider Jabil, various industries are embracing 3D printing for fully-functional production parts or customized products and for all other industries exploring opportunities with additive manufacturing, business disruption is inevitable. However, their 2017 3D Printing Trends Report also shows that 96% of manufacturing stakeholders responsible for 3D printing at their organization report facing challenges, like a lack of in-house expertise, high cost of system equipment and of materials. Perhaps, it will take a few more years for the disruption initiative to finally cut through many more industries and their profits, but at this rate, most experts are certain that it will happen eventually.

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