After such name brands as Home Depot, Staples, and UPS have gotten into the space in one way or another, the latest mainstream company to jump onto the 3D printing train is Lowe’s. Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the company’s “disruptive innovation hub”, will be experimenting with 3D printing both online and in stores.
Lowe’s will begin today with a single Orchard Supply Hardware store in Mountain View, California, as well as at Osh.com, where customers will be able to 3D print replacement parts and décor products with the full customization offered by 3D printing technology. In addition to items like light switch plates and door handles, powered in part by CGtrader, the shop will also be making it possible for customers to 3D scan and reproduce their own items that are no longer in production. With the help of an in-store design specialist, guiding them through the process, customers can have these products 3D printed in plastic at the OSH location or in a number of other materials, such as metal and ceramic, to be printed by Sculpteo and shipped directly to customers’ doorsteps.
Executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, Kyle Nel, says of the new program, “The home is very personal and 3D printing gives homeowners unprecedented access to build items that reflect their individuality. Until now, it’s been hard for the average consumer to benefit from this technology because of the cost and complexity, so we are bringing customers an approachable and affordable customization experience.”
The program has been driven in part by Authentise, the developers of online streaming tools for 3D printing that prevent the unauthorized use of designers’ and companies’ IP. Through the firm’s subsidiary, Authentise Services, the company is able to secure such partnerships as this latest with Lowe’s. And, as Authentise is supported by Singularity University, this deal was partially facilitated through Lowe’s Innovation Labs’ own relationship with SU and SU labs.
Nel elaborates on the partnership, “Our partnership with Authentise enabled us to rapidly develop 3D solutions in a way that is core to home improvement and positions Lowe’s at the forefront of the digital manufacturing revolution.” Andre Wegner, CEO of Authentise, added, “3D printing and scanning are changing the way we produce, deliver and interact with objects. We are delighted to have helped Lowe’s create a solution that makes these changes relevant to its customers, while building a scalable platform to support future demand.”
While, on the one hand, this development vouches for the fact that 3D printing is making its way into mainstream businesses, it is also evidence of Authentise’s increasingly important role in the 3D printing industry. The company, which has previously established relationships with Autodesk and 3DLT, for instance, is acting as a gateway for powerful name brands to make their products available for 3D printing, without fear of seeing their designs downloaded and redistributed without their permission.
Also, I had no idea that Lowe’s had Innovation Labs, but, if you take a look at the site, it looks as though the company is priming itself to take advantage of the Maker revolution that is increasingly infusing itself into mainstream culture. And, though John Oliver made fun of their in-store robo-clerks, the implementation of 3D printing and 3D scanning in their business implies that the company really is beginning to think about the future of retail.
For instance, the company’s Holorooms, something that has been predicted for some time, are now hosted in two Lowe’s stores in Toronto and give customers the ability to virtually reconstruct rooms that they are working on at home and envision the sorts of Lowe’s products that they are thinking of purchasing in those rooms. As 3D technology proliferates, through technology like the RealSense or Structure Sensor, this sort of app will be made available in the confines of an individual’s home, giving Lowe’s a leg up on other retail outlets.
The Innovation Lab concept sees Lowe’s testing out these various new technologies via pilot programs in select stores, so that they can see what sticks and how to improve on them. In San Jose, it’s OSHbot. In Toronto, it’s the Holoroom. And in Mountain View and online, it’s 3D scanning and 3D printing. I’d never thought I’d say this, but Lowe’s might be the retail shop of the future.