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For this weeks Mass Customization Monday we will be looking at mass customized mobile phone cases. The mobile phone accessory market is a bewildering arena with hundreds of thousands of companies. Much of these are low cost manufacturers making bulk products. Only very few such as Otterbox, Mophie, Lifeproof and Belkin have built up brand names in cases or accessories.
Mobile phone accessories is a free for all with a plethora of fashion styles, vendors and OEMs all taking part. Gucci, Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Burberry and Givenchy have iPhone cases. AliBaba houses over 400,000 distinct listings of iPhone cases alone with another 200,000 for Samsung and 100,000 for LG. You can buy them for 10 cents or hundreds of dollars. There are Swarovski encrusted cases, tens of thousands of pink hues, thousands of leather variants and oh so much plastic. Along with mobile phones, cases became a fashion item susceptible to the same trends and risks.
With so much on offer in so many styles, materials and prices why exactly would people like to make more? And yet they did. On 3D printing file sharing sites phone cases are some of the most popular items with thousands of them on offer.
A customized 3D printed iPhone case made on a desktop 3D printer.
Makerbot’s Thingiverse has a Customizer app. This application lets one make a file parametric so that anyone can change the sizes of it to suit any phone. Additionally the cases themselves can be customized with patterns, logos or even one’s face. Printed on desktop 3D printers these cases cost less than fifty cents. The quality was not always what consumers were used to but this points to new business models. Cases could now be made and mass customized on demand at home.
A Shapeways 3D printed phone case.
For a higher cost but better looking alternative 3D printing service Shapeways offers cases as well. Some of these can be customized by their app, others are customized on demand by the designer.
Freshfiber’s online customization tool.
Freshfiber was the pioneer in the field, being the first to bring 3D printed cases to market. Made on industrial 3D printers these high quality cases have been available since 2009.
A FreshFiber Piranha customizable 3D Printed IPhone case.
Zazzle is an early mass customized items pioneer.
3D printing is not the only way to personalize or customize cases however. At the top of the page we can see tde’s cases which are leather and have personalized monograms. Through printing techniques images can be added to cases as well. Zazzle lets you add your own images to cases from different brands such as Otterbox and Lifeproof. Designers can also upload their unique designs which can in turn be customized.
Phone cases is probably one of the world’s most competitive markets. By producing exactly what you want on demand, mass customization companies are holding their own in this fast evolving space.