3D Printing in the Wild

3D Printing & Imaging
Rubber duck in Hong Kong harbor. [courtesy Toys "R" Us (Asia)]
Rubber duck in Hong Kong harbor [courtesy Toys “R” Us Asia]

This past May, a 54-foot-tall inflatable duck floated into Hong Kong harbor, delighting the wide-eyed children and bringing grins to the faces of unsuspecting adults. Thousands came by, smartphones in hand, to snap a picture of themselves with the duck. A huge floating rubber duck is the kind of thing people want to remember.

But what if there were new ways to highlight an event like the Hong Kong duck, something beyond pictures? What if we could create an in-store retail experience that could help people capture the moment in new and exciting ways? And how could 3D printing be used to do it?


3D Systems and Toys “R” Us Asia, with the support of the Fung Group, set out to find some answers. The goal was to explore how the unique capabilities of 3D printing could be used to create not only souvenirs but, more importantly, to create a unique consumer experience surrounding them. In essence, we released 3D printing into the wild — tested it live for the first time in a retail environment — to see how it could be used to engage with and adapt to the public. To make things more interesting, we only had four weeks to do it with an international team that had never before met.

It all added up to the Bye-Bye Duck 3D Party at the Toys “R” Us Asia flagship store in Hong Kong’s Ocean Terminal, a free event where people could learn about 3D printing, see it up close, and make and buy a variety of 3D-printed souvenirs. In a limited edition offer, 300 select Toys “R” Us customers received commemorative 3D-printed ducks sitting in a dim sum basket. The coolest part was that each select customer got a printed-on-site nameplate for their collectible duck set.

Pieter Schats (Toys "R" Us Asia Managing Director) and I at the Bye-Bye Duck Party [courtesy Toys "R" Us  Asia]
Pieter Schats (Toys “R” Us Asia Managing Director) and me at the Bye-Bye Duck Party [courtesy of Toys “R” Us Asia]
Ducks in a row [courtesy of Toys "R" Us Asia]
Ducks in a row [courtesy of Toys “R” Us Asia]

As you might expect, 3D Systems’ factory of the future did the printing. We 3D-printed all the ducks and dim sum baskets on the ProJet 660 printer out of VisiJet PXL. The 3D Systems print services team proved indispensable in providing flexible, rapid, on-demand services. In addition, 10 Cube printers were onsite to do the heavy lifting of the in-store fabrication experience for the four-day event.

Sometimes it takes events like these to show how powerful and transformative 3D printing is. Being so close to 3D printing and 3D technology — it takes up every moment of my day — it’s easy to take it for granted. But seeing the look on a person’s face as they watch an object being made right in front of them is a reminder of how incredible the technology really is. It’s fun to get something new, but when you can be a witness or participant in making it, it establishes a connection. Participating makes it personal and delightful. That’s part of the joy of 3D printing and the joy of making: the experience itself.

I was also amazed at how effectively 3D printing, and some very intelligent people, can be utilized to adapt products on the fly. For instance, one of the 3D-printed products was a small duck coin. But after the first day, customers commented that it wasn’t very functional. So the design team created an adaptor overnight that would convert the coin into a necklace, which people liked a lot more. We 3D printed them in different colors and it was a big hit. That’s a level of thinking and reactivity that simply didn’t exist before 3D printing. Rather, adapting to customers via classical manufacturing techniques would take months, years even.

A Cube printing duck coins [courtesy of the Fung Group]
A Cube printing duck coins [courtesy of Toys “R” Us Asia]
Duck coins with the snap-on necklace adaptor [courtesy of the Fung Group]
Duck coins with the snap-on necklace adaptor [courtesy of Toys “R” Us Asia]

The mission was to engage the public with 3D printing, to see how they would react to it, and to see how it could react to them for a more fulfilling experience. And judging from the Wow! moments and the grins, this 3D printing thing might really take off.

(Written with Josh O’Dell)

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Ping Fu

VP & Chief Entrepreneur Officer, 3D Systems

Honored in 2005 by Inc. Magazine as Entrepreneur of the Year, Ping Fu describes herself as an artist and scientist whose chosen expression is business. In 1997, Ping co-founded Geomagic, a 3D imaging software company, which was acquired by 3D Systems in February 2013. Before co-founding Geomagic, Ping was involved in the NCSA Mosaic software that led to Netscape and Internet Explorer. Ping serves on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Department of Commerce and on the board of directors at the Long Now Foundation. Ping’s book “Bend, Not Break” was published by Portfolio Penguin in January 2013.

View more articles by Ping Fu


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