3D Printing The Future of the High Street Being Micro-Manufactured
For decades, the high street has been declining. This is because of the economy, demographic changes and, most recently, Covid. The number of retailers forced to close on the high street has reached a five-year high. However, the main factor behind the decline of high streets is the rising reliance on technology. Our dependency on technology, online shopping, and the internet in general has clearly had an impact on our high streets.
The rise of the internet alone has escalated the drop in the physical retail market, but the introduction of m-commerce (using the internet on a mobile device rather than a desktop) has completely changed the market, affecting all aspects of day-to-day life.
People would typically go to the high street for another required task, such as a dentist or medical appointment, dry cleaning, etc. But due to the recent pandemic, more crucial tasks went online, including scheduling appointments and holding virtual meetings that would have otherwise taken place in person. This is the result of how e-commerce can benefit the public in general. However, by making goods more available, we have modified routines that functioned and supported the high street for years.
As technology will be here to stay, we should find ways to utilise it and help save the high street. Rather than viewing technology as an adversary, the high street needs to evolve to accommodate and work with technology. The high street, therefore, needs to look at its unique selling point (USP), which is the physical aspect and quick turnarounds. Currently, the high street is superior to online shopping in terms of evaluating product quality and receiving the item the same day.
Micro-Brewing is a compelling example of how technical advancements are benefiting the high street. Because they produce on a smaller scale and don’t need vast amounts of storage space, this business is growing in town centres since it can sell its goods directly to consumers and save on transportation costs. A small-scale brewery can be very tempting for both social and professional gathering places since the new trend is to promote independent shops. This can also generate spaces for professionals to meet, which is just what the high street should be; a meeting place.
Similarly, the potential for 3D printing to support retail, create retail space, and create manufacturing space is limitless. Stores can profit from low transportation costs, locally produced goods, customisation, quick turnaround, and working alongside demand. Since things are now physically created to order, there is less of a need for large storage facilities, thereby increasing the value of any item.
By relocating manufacturing to within the town centre, more firms will reappear on the main street rather than moving to suburban business parks. Manufacturing and retail can work together to bring products to market more promptly and on a smaller scale. As a result, suppliers and markets may establish numerous relationships and even see a rise in the number of companies using the same production facility. This inter-industry collaboration is essential for a successful high street.
The fall during the pandemic increased interest in supporting independent businesses, but this can be the USP for 3D printing facilities and their fully customizable items. People prefer buying goods that are produced and obtained locally and are hesitant to support multinational corporations. People are more inclined to be in favour of localism and want their money to stay in their own community. I suspect that once people started to notice their favourite local businesses disappearing, they raced to support them so they wouldn’t go out of business. The “maker” economy is now promoted more than ever.
The types of entrepreneurs that 3D printing manufacturing produces frequently serve as effective brand advocates for both their companies and their communities. They promote cooperation and knowledge-sharing amongst enterprises as well as with the public, which makes them a valuable resource in their region. They usually have a connection to the neighbourhood and have done research on the region before setting up. As a result, individuals can develop a strong sense of community and become supporters for improvement in their local area.
We are seeing a resurgence of artisan edible products that can be customised thanks to the ongoing advancements in 3D printing and the ability to produce food items like pizza, crackers, and chocolates. Imagine a hot sauce that you can customise by adding or removing ingredients and choosing a heat level. Or a vase that an artist has created, but you can change the size and colour as you choose. These would all be manufactured in your own town, in a single day. This is an important decision consumers make while purchasing amid the recent postal disruptions, as the public start to lose faith in traditional delivery services, services which are necessary for e-commerce to thrive. The physical stores benefit from not relying on this.
Due to their independence and use of small-scale production, these companies tend to be more receptive to new ideas and methods, such as collaborative working, and to present more opportunities.
Several industries, like fashion, automotive, and dentistry, will be fundamentally transformed by the arrival and growth of 3D printing, but what it has done for every industry is brought previously considered premium goods back to the mainstream market. More 3D-printed final items are being used by the public, and they are quickly replacing older technologies.
Stephen George + Partners have designed a concept titled ‘Beds and Sheds’ in which we deal with complex, high value sites and urban logistics, which takes the concept of micro-manufacturing and relates it back to the overly urban city centres. This takes the concept one step further and adds accommodation to high streets in response to the higher cost of land. We already have many shopfronts becoming high density residential schemes, so this takes the same approach but keeps the essence and place-making of the high street alive.
Numerous challenges have been deteriorating the high street, particularly in recent years. We have embraced many changes to our daily routines, so it only makes sense that we would accept changes to our high street to keep it thriving. We can accomplish this by looking at the elements that made up our high streets’ core, such as the sense of community and entrepreneurship, and working to improve them. Technology, which became an adversary of localism, can help restore it, we just need to look in the right direction.
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