Every time our research and development teams meet up, which we do regularly to show off some of the technologies we’re looking at and working on, there is one item that is guaranteed to draw a crowd, the 3D printer. It’s great that we have one to test out and to be able to look at how they might change the way stores work.
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about 3D printing and what it can do. In medicine it can be used to build custom prosthetics and even implants and all with similar technology to the device that’s sat on our desk in the office. There’s even a group in the Netherlands who are planning to “print” a whole house.
If you’re not familiar with how the whole thing works then you’re not alone. There are a few different technologies, but generally layers of material are built up on a platform one at a time from resin that is melted and then cools in place. The platform moves down a bit before each new layer is added and over time, the item that you want to make begins to emerge.
The 3D printer in action. For more information you should watch this youtube video too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEKns8T7yUA
So what does this all mean for Tesco then? Well I’m making no promises, but there are a few things I can predict for the future. We already print photos and posters in many of our larger stores, so why not other gifts and personalised items? How about letting kids design their own toys and then actually being able to get them made. What if we had a digital catalogue of spare parts for items that you’d bought? They could be printed on demand and ready for you by the time you’d finished your shopping. You could even take a broken item in to store; we could scan it in 3D, repair it digitally and make you a new one. The potential for 3D technology to revolutionise the way we view stores and what we can get from them is vast.
We’re pretty excited about 3D printing and we’ll be working hard to see how we might be able use it to make things better for customers. We won’t stop there though and as always we’re constantly seeking out the genuinely ‘next big thing.’ Up next I’ve got a trip to Silicon Valley – the heart of the technology industry, where as well as meeting some of the big names I’ll also be getting together with lots of start-ups and trying to find that idea or product that might just change the retail world. Watch this space to find out more about what I get up to.