Here’s why 2016 could be 3D Printing’s breakout year

It was her days as a cross-training athlete that led Nikki Kaufman to an inventive solution for an annoying, if mundane, problem: Her earphones kept constantly falling out of her ears.

Normal_11-4-15_01Custom earphones can solve this problem, but they normally require a bit of sacrifice on the part of the purchaser—you have to show up at an office, have silicone deposited into your ear, clench your jaw for 10 minutes, and then wait around for a month or more for the molds to be made into bespoke ear gear. But Kaufman took a different route, first with a MakerBot in her own apartment, and then with a suite of industrial-size 3D printers.

Now Kaufman’s two-year-old startup, Normal Earphones, runs 11 printers from inside a factory in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, and is able to create custom-fitted plastic earphones in a few hours based on 3D files made from photos of customers’ ears. This month, she partnered with fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff to create a line of earphones plated with 14-carat rose gold.

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