The history of 3D printing started a lot earlier than you might imagine.3D printing actually began in the 1980s with rapid prototyping, or RP.
In 2012, the MakerBot Replicator 2 was released, which made this technology much more accessible to everyone. Today’s 3D printers allow people to make larger objects and are much more affordable. These “personal printers” are specifically designed for creative professionals to use. With the release of printers for the general public, the advances of this technology are almost certain to quicken even more.
The way that 3D printing, also called “additive manufacturing,” works is by layering material and pressing it together. The material might be paper, a liquid that becomes plastic or a powder. The 3D printing industry is currently a $7.1 billion industry and is expected to grow 31% annually through 2020.
Imagine a world where you can print out something you really need in a matter of hours instead of waiting days for it to be delivered. If part of a machine breaks, you might be able to just print a new part and repair the machine on-the-fly. Artists and inventors will be able to create prototypes on their own without the help of a third party.
Because the ability for the average person to use this technology is still fairly new, imagining all the ways it might be used is still a matter of conjecture.
If you create items and sell them, you can use 3D printing to speed up the process considerably. In the past, you would come up with the concept, work with an artist to draw up plans, a company would create a mold for you and then, finally, your prototype would be created and sent to you. This process was often slow and cumbersome, taking months to complete at best.
No more! For example, if you create small, soft car toy for toddlers, you can now design the concept on your computer and send it to your 3D printer. The item can be printed that day, leaving you with a prototype you can photograph for your online store — and even show to retailers.
Not only is the process much faster, but you’ll also save money in the long run by cutting out the middleman. It won’t take long for your 3D printer to pay for itself.
Today’s 3D printers have the benefit of allowing you to print multiple colors on the same object or even use full-color for your printing. This means that, instead of a single color for your model, you can create a true-to-life replica of what your finished product will look like. This can be vital for getting investors on board. You’ll be showing them a model that looks complete and professional.
Some 3D printers have the ability to use injection-type molds so your finished item will look like you spent thousands of dollars having it professionally prototyped. The savings of creating just one multi-color prototype can help pay for your printer.
Smaller businesses can definitely benefit from 3D printing production. In the past, if you wanted to create a product to sell, you had to have a large number created. This left some businesses with a warehouse filled with boxes and boxes of an item that wasn’t selling well.
On top of that, if you have to purchase a huge quantity of an item, that ties up much of your working capital in product. You then have less money to advertise and develop additional products that might help your business grow.
On a side note, you might want to read How to market to Generation X.
A 3D printer allows you to create just a few items at a time. You can easily start your business selling a couple of products. As you sell one, you simply start the printer again, making another to replace it in your inventory. This way, you can easily start your business with just a handful of customers.
Once you grow past the capabilities of the printer because you’re selling so much product at a time, you can either invest in additional printers or look into mass manufacturing.
Businesses can use 3D printing to help grow their customer base by offering customized products. Instead of being limited to only the colors and styles already produced, a business can offer any number of customization options to the consumer. For example, colors can easily be changed or a name could be added to the back of a favorite toy.
The ability to customize products can help you stand out from the competition, too, who might not yet have thought to offer this to customers or realize the capabilities of 3D printers. If you try to customize either the design or the look of an item via traditional third-party manufacturing, it can be costly and unreliable.
Being able to print these items yourself reduces costs and allows you to control the finished product. This allows you to keep a firm grasp on quality control.
Even though the technology and capabilities that 3D printing brings to the table are truly amazing, keep in mind that a 3D printer does have limitations. For example, you’re creating a solid object, not things that actually have separate parts with metal, plastic, etc. For example, while you can create a small car with movable parts, you can’t create a car that’s one material and then rolls along on wheels of a different material, unless you do some additional work outside of the printing itself.
3D printing has many uses and will no doubt give businesses another tool to grow their product lines or get investors on board. The possibilities are exciting, and it will be interesting to see where advances take the industry in the future.