There is no denying that 3D printing (a method of printing in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control) will change the world. Some even claim that this is the dawn of next Industrial Revolution.
While 3D printers are being tested to print everything from organs to parts for space stations, Nikki Kaufman is putting this technology to work for a mass-produced, customized consumer good–Headphones.
In this video, take a look at the wide-ranging abilities of this technology, and how Kaufman developed the company from the ground up.
Kaufman is a graduate of Princeton University, and was a founding team member at consumer product company Quirky, where she led several departments, including People & Culture and Operations.
If you talk to people, they’ll say my right ear is so weird. My earphones always fall out. And the reality is it’s not weird. Your ears are normal. There’s no such thing as a normal ear actually.
I’m Nikki Kaufman and I’m the founder and CEO of Normal.
What we make at Normal is a custom in-ear product. It’s different than anything that exists on the market.
To date before Normal 3D printing has been used for prototyping or one-offs. And we’re really excited to be using 3D printing to mass produce a consumer good. Our product that you receive, the finished good, part of it is 3D printed.
Barack Obama, State of the Union Address:
I had the problem of ill-fitting earphones. Nothing would fit. Things would fall out. They were uncomfortable. I wanted to solve this problem.
Realized that what existed to date before Normal was a very cumbersome inaccessible process if you wanted to get custom earphones. It involved a trip to a doctor’s office where they squirt silicone in your ears and you keep your jaw clenched for ten minutes. And hundreds to thousands of dollars later you could get a pair of custom headphones made. This was not a process that I was going to undergo but I did want to solve this problem and thought after being around 3D printing that can we solve it in a different way.
Normal works based on solely a photo. All we need is a photo. We ask you to hold up a quarter or a quarter-sized object for scale and that’s enough information for us to make you a custom pair of earphones.
I was first prototyping Normal out of my apartment on a replicator to a MakerBot that I had at home and that was just a prototype of a print of how to turn a photo into a fit for me.
This isn’t just a small, medium, large. This is a one size fits none and in fact the earphones that you get on your right and left ear are actually different. So when you order Normals or when you come to the store to order Normals, you’ll notice that we ask to take a photo of each of your ears because they’re quite different.
This is our factory. It is our factory that is also our office and also happens to be a store. Every order no matter where it gets placed, whether it gets placed in the store, whether it gets placed on the West Coast, every order gets filled from this facility. We hope that what you’re looking at and your experience right now is what people keep talking about as the future of retail. This is the place where we have manufacturing on site for anyone to see. To stand this close to a 3D printer. To see the assembly line in full transparent view. To let people really in to our process of making this product that’s uniquely personalized and customized for you.
This is the first time that there’s been ten 3D printers on a display. This is a transparent factory in the middle of Manhattan that is showing 3D printing. We’re excited because a lot of folks that walk in here have never seen a 3D printer before.
Right now Normal is focused on being the best headphone, earphone company we can be. You’ve seen our V1 product that’s out which we’re super proud of. We’re working on additional product lines that are headphones and earphones; however we are called Normal, one size fits none. We don’t mention headphones or earphones or ears in our brand name or tagline. So as you can see the idea of custom products that are made by 3D printing could be much larger than headphones and we’re excited about potential in the future but right now we’re focused on being the best headphone brand we can be.
For me working at a startup or the work that I’ve been doing for the past seven years is work that I’m super passionate about. It’s about building something, building a team, building a product, coming together to create something that you care about. Knowing that what you’re doing each day is something that you want to create, that you want to work together to build something that’s not out there.
Cinematography: Danielle Calodney & Dyani Douze
Edited by: Danielle Calodney
Interviewed by: Laura Lehmann
Music courtesy of Let’s Make Out