Forecasting the demand for merchandise and toys to support a new Star Wars film always requires a bit of magic and Jedi Arts. How many of each different action figure, light saber and book should be produced? It has been almost 10 years since the last film was released so there is no recent supply chain data to analyze. And, of course, we want to avoid a 1977 style imbalance of the force (between supply and demand) when toys weren’t able to be mass produced in time for the holiday season. What if we forget about the traditional mass production in China model. What if, instead, toy manufacturers should use 3D printing to create action figures and other toys on demand? Here is how it would work.
Imagine you are seven years old. You convince your Mom or Dad to take you Walmart, Toys R Us or Target where you could visit a special Star Wars kiosk in the toy section. The kiosk would allow you to select action figures to buy – new characters from Episode VII and older ones from the first two trilogies. There would be options to purchase 100+ standard “pre-designed” action figures ($5.99). Alternatively, you could customize the design with hundreds of other permutations ($10.99) – different weapons (lightsaber, guns, sticks), headwear (masks, helmets) and clothing (capes, gowns).
After adding your selections kiosks would direct you to visit the in-store factory. You and your parents could watch through a glass window as your own Chewbacca is printed layer-by-layer. After printing, a robotic arm could package the action figures into personalized boxes and put them onto a mini conveyor belt. A store clerk would then retrieve the figures and hand them to the customer.
3D Printers and scanners are already emerging in major retailers around the world. UK-based ASDA offers kiosks where customers can print a miniaturized version of themselves – 3D selfies. Customers stand in a body scanner similar to the one you see at the airport. It takes photos of you from different angles to create a three dimensional model. The model is then sent to an on-site 3D printer, which creates your mini-me a few minutes later.
I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that within twelve months that customized 3D printing stations could be introduced to major retailers to support the Star Wars movie launch. It would certainly make the buying experience much cooler. There would be many more SKUs and customization options available.
It would be good for the environment too. The 3D printing model should reduce the carbon footprint of a typical Stormtrooper. The mass production process overseas would be eliminated. Less pollution and waste would be generated. The transportation by ship and truck of the products from Shenzhen to retailers around the world would be eliminated. There would be less oil consumption and carbon emissions.
There could be a perfect balance of the force(s) – of supply and demand. Only the exact quantity of toys desired would be produced. No more Jedi Arts to predict six months in advance how many R2-D2s to make. There should be fewer out-of-stocks as well. Stores would simply need to keep sufficient printer capacity in the stores and have enough of the associated materials on hand.
The customizable 3D printed action figures could be also be available online. The experience from the in-store kiosk could be replicated on a mobile app or a web browser. Imagine if you place an order on your iPhone and one hour later an Uber driver service pulls in your driveway with your Luke Skywalker.
Even cooler would be a mobile app that could represent 3D holographic images of the characters. Imagine the ghost of Anakin, Obiwan and Yoda being inserted into pretend battles with real physical action figures. The hologram apps may not be available by next December, but I we should not be surprised if the technology is ready for the launch of Episode VIII.