Back in 2014, Great Britain’s premier postal service, The Royal Mail, tied up with 3D printing company iMAKR, to offer their customers a 3D printing option on objects ranging from key chains to mini postboxes in the latest bid to retool the company for the 21st century. Similarly, La Poste Group, France’s national postal service in partnership with Cults, the platform to “Innovate and Create in 3D” aim to introduce mail users to the world of 3D printing. On this platform, there are three possibilities: download free 3D models, contact 3D advisors of La Poste to achieve a 3D printing project and finally, 3D model directly from the website.
La Poste is bent on strengthening its involvement in 3D printing, by giving simply access to all to associated digital services. The site demonstrates through a multitude of digital objects created by worldwide expert designers, the potential of 3D printing. Whether through artistic pieces, objects for the home, toys or architectural models; it aims to enable everyone (general public and professionals) to simply access the uses of 3D.
Each 3D file shared on the website is the opportunity to exchange with project advisors through La Poste. By clicking a button, customers can seek advice to realize their 3D printing project. Experts can easily respond to customer’s inquiries (technical, cost, prototyping, etc.) and follow them throughout their projects. Depending on location, the customer can also visit the nearest specialized post office to meet a 3D advisor. Through “Creating a project”, the customer has the opportunity to learn 3D modeling thanks to 3D Slash web-based modeling software. Directly from the website, it is possible to create a 3D model and send it to an advisors to order a print of the creation.
However, it’s what’s behind all of this that’s the most interesting. A platform which can be tied into websites to bring product creation and fulfillment to their audience. Including La Poste, Cults currently has 13 partners and a platform that is simply set to make 3D printing more ubiquitous. In conversation with Hugo Fromont and Pierre Ayroles, cofounders of Cults, we find out how the La Poste project took shape and why Cults is one to watch.
SolidSmack: What inspired you to partner with La Poste?
Hugo Fromont and Pierre Ayroles: The idea of this project comes directly from La Poste. They came to us with a very clear vision of what they wanted. They wanted to partner with a French start-up already known in the world of 3D printing. Via Start’InPost, La Poste’s Startup accelerator, there is a real commitment to associate La Poste Group and to support innovative French startups ecosystem.
SS: What is the goal?
HF/PA: The idea of this project is based on the first 3D printing service of La Poste. In 2013, they opened several post offices in France with 3D advisors who could guide and introduce their clients to the 3D printing world. To increase the number of people that may have access to this service, they decided to go digital and create a dedicated website to promote 3D printing service by La Poste. The objective is indeed to touch more people (French and international) through a digital platform.
SS: What is the key innovation in the new process?
HF/PA: There are three key innovations. First, any member of the platform “Innovate and Create in 3D” can download free 3D models. These models are provided by Cults and are selected through Creative Commons licensing. Second, at anytime, users can contact a 3D advisor of La Poste to showcase their 3D printing project. They can ask for an advice, make a cost estimation for a print, order a 3D printing, etc. And finally, the third innovation is the ability to model directly into the site via the French software company, 3D Slash. From the site, users can create a piece and send the 3D file to La Poste and order a 3D print.
SS: What was the biggest challenge that you faced so far in 3D printing?
HF/PA: The two biggest challenges: 1) success in making a “functional dialogue” between Cults platform and the “Innovate and Create in 3D” site and 2) implementing 3D Slash software via an API.
SS: Can you provide some ‘behind-the-scenes’ insight into bringing this project to life?
HF/PA: All the design and development phase was done by Cults. La Poste has provided the website sub-domain which then we adapted. We first had to propose mockups for validation by La Poste before starting the development phase. The site is translated in both languages–French and English, has a responsive web design, and took about two months to develop and then launch.
Will living in a 3D printed future really be that much different than today? Who knows for sure? We will still put our shoes on one foot at a time. However, those shoes might be printed right in our homes, or as La Poste surely envisions shipped over to us straight away. One thing is for certain, 3D Printing is still changing how businesses think about providing service and to see the entire design process happening online, from modeling to manufacturing is sure to inspire others as well.