Sculpteo Shows Us What 3D Printing Is Really Good For: Creating Adapters For Old iPod Docks

Sculpteo, a French 3D printing company, is now offering custom iPhone adapters for older iPod docks, allowing you to add connect to your old Bose, Sony, JBL, and other docks with the new Lightning connector. Obviously you need a Lightning adapter but the $17 pieces will make it much easier for you to connect your phone to these older docks.

But the most interesting thing here is that this essentially creates a sort of interstitial hardware. Instead of buying a new dock (or a new baby gate or a new garden parasol) you can buy and print or download and print your own spare parts. This obviously won’t put your local hardware store out of business and 99% of the world won’t buy this Lightning adapter, but the fact that it’s available is very important.

“This story and this adapter is opening a new field of 3D printed spare parts for a lot of different devices. Battery covers, clips, docks, handles … a lot of things can be lost, or become unusable because some other device changed or has been updated,” said Sculpteo founder Clement Moreau. “We really see 3D Printing here as a way to work smoothly in a moving environment, where big companies have really good reasons to change standards from time to time.”

This is print-on-demand hardware, designed for a very specific purpose with a very specific audience. Because they don’t have to hold inventory, you can essentially offer customized dock adapters. This one is a one-size-fits-all but you could feasibly print new ones for oddly-shaped ports or even adapters for different phones. It makes no sense to make 50,000 of these at a factory in Asia but it makes perfect sense to dump out few hundred to those in need.

This is hardly an earth-shattering announcement. Oddly enough, as a Makerbot owner I’d actually prefer to be able to download and print my own copy of this adapter rather than buy one for the ridiculous price of $20. I won’t, but still. This announcement does raise a lot of interesting points as to where the hardware business is headed. And when I can breathe new life into old docks with just a tiny piece of plastic I’m a much happier man. And, when someone inevitably creates a free copy of these things, we’ll have to begin asking ourselves what copyright really means in an era when we can print anything at any time, from iPhone dock adapters to guns.