Nowadays, companies seem to be sprinting towards technology megatrends with the hopes of grasping cost benefits and the ever-dwindling attention of consumers in an increasingly fast-paced world. This pursuit is particularly true in the consumer products industry. A recent megatrend that is beginning to seep into the consumer products space is additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Safilo, an Italian eyewear manufacturer and distributor, has recently shared that “3-D printing holds huge promise” for innovation in their company – will Safilo’s vision to leverage 3D printing serve as a competitive advantage for the eyewear leader moving forward, or is Safilo at risk of falling victim to the buzz of a technology that is not congruent with its industry or business model?
Additive manufacturing enables the creation of 3D objects by printing layers of material over each other based on specifications in a digital design file. This method allows for the creation of both simple and highly intricate 3D objects without the need of extensive tooling or manual skill.  Benefits include reduced material waste due to the additive nature and reduced need for sub-units due to the ability to handle complexity.  The consumer products industry is a great opportunity for companies to leverage 3D printing to better manage costs and production processes and to offer more distinctive value to consumers in an increasingly fast-paced industry.
Safilo, a leader in luxury eyewear, offers a high volume of eyeglass-frames to consumers – with over 21,000 models across 31 luxury brands.  Safilo has invested heavily in infrastructure to support its manufacturing and distribution – with 7 manufacturing plants, a distribution network spanning 40 countries, and a reach of nearly 100,000 stores globally.  There are several problem areas that exist in the eyeglass-frame market. First, the market is plagued with a tremendous amount of unsold inventory.  Manufacturers produce eyeglass-frame models in high volumes to drive down manufacturing costs, but lack clear knowledge of demand. Second, traditional eyeglass-frame manufacturing results in a high percentage of raw material waste – approximately 75% of every sheet of acetate (plastic) used is discarded during production.  Third, traditional eyeglass-frame manufacturing limits the ability to create complex or customized designs without incurring additional cost. 3D printing provides an opportunity for Safilo to address these issues by increasing flexibility and enabling smaller-batch production, reducing material waste through an additive versus subtractive manufacturing process, and allowing for complexity without added incremental cost.
In the short term, Nicola Belli, Safilo Global Director of Front-End Innovation, sees 3D printing applicable to the production of low-volume Safilo models and expects that traditional manufacturing approaches will remain more efficient for the high-volume models.  To pursue this strategy, Safilo has partnered with Stratasys Ltd, a manufacturer of 3D printers, to outsource the production of the 3D printed eyeglass-frame models.  The company highlights that the focus on smaller-volume frame models will allow Safilo to respond to trends much quicker than they were able to before.  Longer term, Safilo’s 3D printing strategy is not as clear, however, given benefits to color quality identified by David Iarossi, Safilo Creative Director, the company may look to leverage 3D printing capabilities more broadly across models. 
Looking forward, I recommend that in the short-term Safilo’s management works hard to solidify a partnership with a leading 3D printing company. As 3D printing becomes more common among eyeglass-frame manufacturers and consumer products manufacturers generally, I suspect strong early partnerships would provide Safilo with a competitive advantage as demand for 3D printing provider’s products and services rise. Longer-term, I recommend that Safilo review their production and distribution processes and identify opportunities to integrate 3D printing more deeply into their business model. This may call for a shift from partnering with 3D printing companies as producers to bringing 3D printing partner’s technology in-house. This could provide an opportunity for Safilo to streamline production and potentially reduce its current manufacturing plant footprint by more directly leveraging the benefits of increased agility and “on-demand” processing capabilities.  While several limitations exist with current 3D printing technology, including extensive post processing requirements (i.e. curing, finishing), limited material availability, and limited economies-of-scale, these limitations are expected to improve in the longer-term.  Once these improvements are realized, Safilo may be able to shift their strategy from smaller-volume eyeglass-frame models to increasingly larger-volume models and integrate 3D printing technology more deeply into their business model.
As Safilo contemplates the future, a few questions remain. Should Safilo management make a more fundamental shift in how they think about eyewear design? How should they balance emerging strategies for customizability with their traditional high-volume production approach? In addition, how should Safilo balance their existing brand image of “superior” materials with the current limitations of additive manufacturing material availability? Is there a possibility that the “luxury” and “Italian-made” identity of the brand could be diluted?
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 Spaeth, D., 3D Printing Is Changing the Face of Multiple Industries. ECN: Electronic Component News. vol. 61, no. 9, Oct. 2017, pp. 21–23. EBSCOhost, Available at: ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=125445588&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
 Group, S. (2018). About us – Safilo Group. [online] Safilogroup.com. Available at: http://www.safilogroup.com/en/1-group [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
 Michaels, D., 2018. Design Your Frames: 3-D Printing Comes to Eyewear. The Wall Street Journal. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/design-your-frames-3-d-printing-comes-to-eyewear-1541937600 [Accessed November 14, 2018].