The development of 3D printers could lead to a major shift in the way people think about manufactured products, it has been suggested.
Over the last few years, the technology behind the devices has become more advanced, while the cost of such printers has also fallen to a point where they are beginning to be viable options for home users.
This could result in more individuals using specialised printer supplies for the devices to create tailored items in their own homes, Sky News reports.
Managing director of additive manufacturing consultancy Econolyst Dr Phil Reeves said this could see an end to mass-production for many common household items.
“The ability to mass-personalise products and produce individual products for individual consumers opens up an enormous opportunity, it almost takes us back to a craft industry where things were made for individuals,” he told the news provider.
There are many positives to creating more personalised products, the expert noted. In addition to creating items that are exactly tailored to their needs, there could be environmental benefits, as people are likely to hold on to customised objects for longer.
Professor Richard Hague, director of the EPSRC Centre for Additive Manufacturing, demonstrated the technology to the broadcaster and explained it could be highly useful for making many similar designs that have only slight differences.
More traditional manufacturing processes would have required machines to be retooled or production lines redesigned in order to create such results, he said.
One company that has been taking advantage of these capabilities recently is Aardman Animations, the studio behind Wallace and Gromit, which used 3D printers in its recent film The Pirates: In an Adventure With Scientists.
The filmmakers used a 3D printer to create thousands of mouths for their character models that could be swapped to give the appearance of speech in the stop-motion animation – a process that would have been vastly more expensive and time-consuming to do with older manufacturing methods.