Earphones: The holy grail for 3D printing?


Custom 3D printed earphone company Normal will on Saturday open a retail location in Manhattan, where consumers will be able to see the entire manufacturing process from printing to packing.

On the surface this may seem like an odd choice for a retail outlet, but there are reasons why this product might merit it.

Traditionally a custom-built mold of your ear would involve a trip to the doctor, but Normal is trying to leverage 3D printing for mass customization by allowing users to take a picture of their ear with a coin for size reference and upload it to their app.

For consumers who want a more experiential retail experience, they can come in person to have their ears photographed starting Aug. 9. The company stresses taking a picture of both the right and left because even a single person's ears can slightly vary in important ways.

Once the photos are uploaded, the earphones can be customized for cord length, color and accent colors on the hardware which will then be personalized and shipped in 48 hours. The earphones are priced at $199 and the company uses Stratasys Fortus 250mc printers to print them.

"I want to stress that the cool thing about Normal is that it's our store, factory and headquarters" says CEO Nikki Kaufman "We have ten printers here now, you can see that the retail floor is built very modular so we can swap out displays and pop in a printer"


Kaufman mentioned no new products (such as over-the-ear models) were in production just yet, but something they are working on. The company is in the process or rolling out new earphones with more color and cord options ahead of the holidays.

Kaufman is a former Quirky executive, and her spouse, Ben Kaufman is that company's founder and CEO. (He also founded Mophie, which builds phone-charging cases.) The company currently has $5 million in funding, and some of its investors include Michael Ovitz, The Kraft Group, RRE Ventures and NEA.

Specialized 3D printing with high margins is one place 3D printing technology can grow outside of its current success with hobbyists or industrial manufacturing, Kaufman said.


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"3D printing has been around for prototyping, model making and hobbyists" says Kaufman "Normal is using 3D printing for the first time to mass produce a consumer good."

Mass customization could become trend among 3D printers. Normal's slogan, after all, is "one size fits none."

—By CNBC's Deborah Findling