The 3D-printing space has seen its fair share of entrants over the past few years from both traditional toycos like Mattel and Hasbro and upstarts such as Cannybots and Printeer. And don’t forget about the House of Mouse. 3D-printing tech startups were all over its 2015 list of Disney Accelerator finalists. Pegged to explode for some time, the global 3D-printing market is expected to grow by 600% to US$21 billion in 2020, and makers of kids consumer products are all scouting out future opportunities. In the present, however, Nickelodeon might have just found a new niche.
Until now, kid-designed 3D toys were only available through online manufacturers or to users who had access to a 3D printer at home. But a brand-new partnership between Nickelodeon, Toys”R”Us and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based PieceMaker offers kids the experience of making their very own 3D-printed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turltes, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Blaze and the Monster Machines figures in a retail store lab.
So, how does it work?
It’s actually quite simple. Using one of PieceMaker’s kiosks at TRU, kids simply select which character they would like to make on a touchscreen. Next, they pick from one of seven colors, and they can also add their name or an emoji to make their toy unique.
Once they submit their creation, PieceMaker’s machine builds the toy layer-by-layer using ABS plastic (the same material used in Lego pieces), and 30 minutes later kids have their very own brand-new Nick figure, 95% of which cost US$7.99 or less, depending on the design that’s chosen.
“A lot of kids are absolutely fascinated. They won’t move away,” says PieceMaker director of marketing Pam Israel, of the in-store 3D printing process. What makes PieceMaker’s in-store 3D printing kiosks stand out, she adds, is that users don’t need to be up on the technology in order to participate in the experience.
“There are plenty of places where you can bring your own model and print it, but we’re not asking six-year-olds and caregivers to know how to do cast modelling. We’ve done all that for them,” she says. “No one else is doing an in-store kiosk, where consumers can customize a piece and then watch it being printed right in front of them without having technical skills.”
Nick’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Blaze and the Monster Machines are the first licensed characters PieceMaker has made with its 3D printing machines and now account for more than 15% all the products it makes.
But it’s not just characters like SpongeBob or Michelangelo that kids can make. They can also make things like a working whistle modeled after Squidward’s home, a Michelangelo with a tongue that pops when you push a lever, or even personalized name tags for their backpacks.”The ability to personalize with kids is huge,” adds Israel.
Indeed, research released in October from PlayScience and the Casual Games Association confirms that the ability to personalize products and games is highly valued by this generation of kids, regardless of gender.
Taking reports like that into account, Nick, PieceMaker and TRU doubled their efforts from last year’s holiday pilot program, increasing the availability of the 3D printing kiosks from two to four TRU stores this time around — Freehold, New Jersey, Middletown, New York, North Wales, Pennsylvania, and the flagship Times Square New York location.
This year’s program launched in November and is slated to run until at least April 1.
Israel says both Nick and PieceMaker have been extremely happy with the program, and PieceMaker has been in discussions to place kiosks at other retailers. And Nick may even help with the pitch, she adds. “They think the pieces are turning out great. They like the way people can still customize our pieces, but it’s within some very clear constraints,” she says.