Poll: Industry Split on Future of 3D Printing

LOS ANGELES — Despite the media’s growing presumption that consumer-friendly 3D printing will incite a homemade sex toy craze, XBIZ.com’s most recent poll shows that while it has potential, the technology is still too infantile to gauge.

XBIZ asked industry members “Will 3D printing revolutionize sex toys similar to VHS’ impact on adult movies?” As of Feb. 28, 37 percent responded “Yes,” 29 percent said “No,” and 34 percent are unaware of what 3D printing is. The results are based on responses from members of XBIZ.net, the adult industry’s leading social network.

Jimmyjane founder Ethan Imboden — winner of multiple design awards, as well as the 2013 XBIZ Award for Luxury Toy of the Year — said that the survey fairly accurately represents the evenly split different schools of thought.

“It’s interesting that the responses are pretty much equal across the board, and here’s why,” Imboden says. “Those who said yes are right. In fact, 3D printing has already revolutionized development in pretty much every product category by enabling inexpensive, highly accurate and virtually instantaneous iterative prototyping.

“Those who said no — well, they’re right too. If we’re talking about the day when we’ll print out our own coffee mug (or vibrator) as easily as we currently microwave our coffee, that’s still several years away. One major impediment: at present, the range of non-porous, medical-grade 3D printing materials and methods is very slim.”

Susan Colvin, President and CEO of California Exotic Novelties, echoed the sentiment.

“I can foresee a day when the printers, which currently cost thousands of dollars, are affordable enough to have in the home just like current paper printers,” Colvin said. “Consumers can purchase the design for a dong or stroker they like, pick the material, and essentially print their own sex toy!

“That day is a ways off, though. For this futuristic scenario to be possible the consumer will need to purchase raw materials and have absolute foreknowledge of what they want in a toy — in other words they can’t hold the object prior to purchase. Also, how would this work with small, complicated working components like motors and controllers? Would the consumer or the retail store with the 3D printer also be making the motors? There are so many different sizes, making the various sizes fit properly would create a lot of obstacles.”

Generally, the average consumer is not familiar with the purpose or functions of a 3D printer.

“Those who are simply saying, ‘What…?’ — they’re accurately representing consumer sentiment,” Imboden said. “While industrial designers and engineers been 3D printing for a few decades, only the early, early adopters in the consumer world are currently 3D printing anything of their own. It will be quite a few years before a sizeable portion of sex product purchasers will be actively seeking the type of ‘mass customized’ product made possible through these maturing technologies.”

Among the early adopters of 3D printing technology is Tom Nardone, who launched MakerLove.com as a platform for 3D designs of pleasure products to be downloaded and printed into physical toys. Nevertheless, he also is realistic about the current level of adoption of 3D printing.

“First, I'm not surprised that 34 percent don't know what 3D printing is,” Nardone said. “I would have expected almost no one to know. I'm actually a little surprised that the split is almost divided evenly. Thirty percent of people probably understand that there is more to sex toys than what a 3D printer can deliver — a 3D printer will never make lube, lotions, potions, nor the motor inside a vibrator. So, I expect that many people understand that its impact will be less than the VCR's impact on adult movies. Also, VHS caused adult movie sales to increase, the revenue was great for the industry. Using a 3D printer instead of buying a sex toy will remove revenue from our industry.”

Regardless of its potential impact on the pleasure products industry, Colvin said that from a large-scale manufacturing point-of-view, she is looking forward to the dawning advancement of 3D printing technology.

“From a manufacturing point-of-view it’s exciting to think of the advances it will allow us and our vendors,” Colvin said. “The field of 3D printing opens a whole new world for manufacturing. Since it is an additive process, and most manufacturing is subtractive, it presents a paradigm shift in the model of making things. It’s being used in many industries that complement the novelty industry. Jewelry, dental, medical, automotive and aerospace industries are some of the early adapters. We can learn a lot by watching how these industries adapt 3D printing technology into their product development process.”