Though it has yet to reach a widespread saturation point, we are slowly witnessing the birth of 3D printable replacement parts and accessories for consumer goods. The latest evidence of that trend is the new 3D4U platform from Miele, which has released a range of 3D printable parts for its appliances. The German manufacturer has released files for ten items on Thingiverse, all of which can be downloaded and 3D printed for free.
Among the tools that can be 3D-printed are a variety of vacuum adapters, as well as accessories for coffee brewing and common repair work. For instance, there are nozzles for vacuuming different types of surfaces, a holder for attaching extra nozzles to Miele vacuums, and even a device that can be used to blow bubbles from one’s vacuum. Also available are a clip for sealing coffee bags, an accessory for decorating lattes, and a borehole cleaning aid to assist with drilling holes. The latte motif maker has also been uploaded as a blank template, with which users are encouraged to download and modify for their own custom coffee decorating.
David Buhl, 3D4U project manager at Miele’s Bielefeld plant, said of the project:
“With 3D4U, we aim to offer our customers additional benefits and put ideas into practice which we were not previously able to implement as part of our comprehensive portfolio of accessories. In doing so, each part reflects our expertise in product development, for instance more than 90 years of Miele experience in floor care.”
This isn’t the first time a consumer brand has considered 3D printing for the production of accessories and spare parts. The most similar account is that of Hoover, which teamed up with MakerBot in 2014 to host its own 3D printable vacuum accessories. That experiment seemed to have ended then and there. Also in 2014, iRobot invited customers to hack their Roomba 600 series with 3D printable parts.
IKEA and its customers have experimented with 3D printing, given the natural fit for the DIY aspect of building the Swedish giant’s low-cost furniture. For its part, IKEA has sold 3D-printed art objects, a gaming chair prototype, and, most interestingly, adapter tools that allow disabled consumers to more easily use their products. Makers have designed a number of 3D printable spares for the brand’s furniture, which populate model repositories like Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory.
What’s missing for this very feasible concept to take off is the lack of widespread consumer adoption of 3D printers. Prices for desktop 3D printers are now consistently low and higher-end systems are introducing near-industrial- and true-industrial-grade capabilities that could change that, if price, functionality and ease-of-use can meet in the middle to create something that consumers would be interested in purchasing.
Initiatives like this being pursued by Miele will serve to drive the functionality of the technology, but we’re still waiting for a coalescence of forces to generate a perfect storm for consumer adoption. Meanwhile, larger economic problems will likely drive consumers away from what is, for now, a luxury hobby, unless some wonderfully low-cost, highly functional 3D printer emerges as a means of producing goods at a price that beats items mass manufactured in distant countries.
Otherwise, for now, spare parts will likely start out as more viable for industrial applications, such as for heavy equipment and rail sectors, where the technology is already beginning to demonstrate real value.
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