Video: Custom Manufacturing Through 3D Printing

The founder of earbud manufacturer Normal describes how commonplace digital technology + 3D printing allow a consumer product to be tailored to the end user.


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Nikki Kaufman, the founder and CEO of Normal, describes a customized consumer product made possible through additive manufacturing. Her company uses 3D printing to make earbuds that are tailored to the wearer’s ears. Her business is also expanding the picture of what manufacturing might look like, because for Normal, the store and the factory are one in the same. ​



Pete: I’m Pete Zelinski with Additive Manufacturing Magazine and I’m here with Nikki Kaufman. Nikki is the founder and CEO of Normal, a company that makes custom earbuds using 3D printing. So, Nikki, basic question. First talk to me about the process. If I order earbuds from Normal, how can you make earbuds that perfectly match my ear?

Nikki: Sure, so it’s super simple. You can actually order normal earphones from anywhere in the world by downloading the mobile app, it’s available in the iTunes Store or the Google Play Store, and we ask you to grab a quarter and hold it up to your ear which we use for scale. You take a couple of ear-selfies, you hold the phone here, hold the quarter, and turn your head. It takes two minutes. You submit your photos, you customize your Normals, and then we deliver them to you in as little as 48 hours. In addition, we also have a factory that’s also our store in the middle of Manhattan. So, f you local to Manhattan, you can actually order right from our store.

Pete: How did you get the idea for Normal?

Nikki: So, I’ve been an athlete all my life. I was a swimmer in college and did a lot of running and cross training and never had earphones that fit. I like to call it a “normal problem” we all have. You run and it falls out and you’re sticking it in your ear, and I looked into the process of getting a custom pair made, but realized that the process that existed before Norma, was incredibly cumbersome and inaccessible. You’d have to go to an audiologist, they squirt silicone in your ears, six weeks later and two thousand dollars and you can get a pair that fit you. But I had been around additive manufacturing for quite some time. A previous company and I got to thinking, you know, is there- can we do this by 3D printing? There’s got to be a better way, so I started prototyping it and realized I could just go from a photo to a custom-fitting product. So, the part that we have today, which looks like this inside my ear, it’s not going anywhere. It’s awesome for the everyday consumer and the athlete who wants a comfortable pair without, you know, breaking the bank or a trip to a doctor’s office.

Pete: Talk a little bit more about how valuable additive manufacturing is. Is it fair to say your business would not be possible without it?

Nikki: The fact that we use 3D printing allows us to do it in a way that is both scalable for the business and also possible for the customer. We actually can make Normals in under three hours and the 3D printing process, itself, takes about an hour. And after that, there’s some post processing that we do, but yes, without 3D printing, there’s no way to do this in a way that’s affordable for both the business and the customer. So, we’re actually allowed to keep our costs down and deliver it very quickly because of 3D printing technology.

Pete: So, Nikki, I write about manufacturing and to me, manufacturing always happens in a place: a factory plant, a shop, you’ve got a different paradigm and a different picture of what manufacturing looks like. You mentioned it a little bit before but give us a better sense of setting that your production occurs in.

Nikki: So, we have a place that, you know, that place that you’re referring to but actually, our factory is also a store. So, it’s in the middle of Manhattan in Chelsea and customers can actually walk in and place their order in less than three hours. They can come back to pick it up where they can hang out and assemble it with us.

Pete: I’m looking forward for taking my ear selfie. Nikki, thank for talking with us.

Nikki: Thanks for having me.