3D printing is an incredibly innovative technology that will change manufacturing by allowing just about anyone to produce goods or items. More importantly, the tech will revolutionize the entire world of business thanks to a series of benefits, not the least of which includes improved efficiency across the board.
How It Works
Often referred to as additive manufacturing, 3D printers produce solid items through a continuous injection of what’s called filament, generally in a pliable form of ABS or hard plastic. Printers can also work with a variety of other materials, however, including stone and masonry, wood, concrete and metal.
To create an object, you take a digital design or blueprint, feed it into the printer and then it will create the object depicted. It works almost exactly like a conventional ink printer. Only the end result is a solid, 3D object.
Every business big or small starts with the idea of a product or service. Becoming a successful business is about taking that idea and turning it into something tangible, which provides value to potential customers.
Before 3D printing, the prototyping process was very much about designing on paper, for lack of a better phrase. You would brainstorm and model a particular product, ironing out the various details, spending an awful lot of time getting to know its makeup — all without actually having the item or product.
When it was finally ready, you would send the prototype designs to a manufacturer to create it. After that, it would turn into a series of back and forth processes, where the manufacturer continuously produces new prototypes and you reconfigure the design until you are satisfied with a final version.
None of that has to happen anymore. Instead, a business can use a 3D printer to produce their prototype, in-house and almost instantly. This is especially useful for small businesses with little to no startup capital. It provides businesses with a low-cost way to perfect and design various products. But it also speeds up the time it takes to get products to market, therefore increasing the chance of success and lowering overall costs.
Industrial and B2B manufacturers make their money by producing equipment, parts and even components for a variety of fields. 3D printing will shape even this area of business, by allowing for more custom and direct development opportunities.
Consider an on-site printer, for instance, that gets used to develop prefabs for a building or structure. The printer or equipment could get supplied and managed by an outsourcing company, all of which foregoes the traditional factory setting.
Even better, the printers can get configured to accommodate intricate details or configurations never before seen. Things such as abrasive blasting or sandblasting — which requires using specialized equipment for etching or finishing components — could get incorporated into a print.
Naturally, 3D printing has already altered the entire makeup of the manufacturing industry. For starters, nearly everyone has the opportunity to be a manufacturer and produce goods — that adds more competition and changes the traditional dynamic. A conventional business could act as both a forward-facing brand and a manufacturer simultaneously.
But printers have also changed the way manufacturers handle operations. Since printers produce goods faster, often with more efficiency and accuracy, they create a multitude of custom print-to-order opportunities. Many of the same opportunities would alter the current state of business. Imagine, for example, a shoe company allowing you to fully customize your own sneakers online, only to have them printed in minutes and ready for pickup in a local store.
This also provides a unique situation where manufacturers can rent out equipment or entire factories to potential businesses or individuals. Think of it like a Kinko’s/FedEx or Vistaprint, only for 3D printing projects instead of paper goods.
Then there’s the matter of the blueprints — the digital files that get fed into a printer to create 3D objects. You can run an entire business on the process of creating or designing these blueprints and then selling them via B2C or B2B channels.
Change Is Coming
By now, it should be rather obvious that 3D printing is a transformative technology that will shape the future of many industries including manufacturing and development, construction, medical and even retail.
It’s not a stretch to argue that it will have the biggest impact in manufacturing, however, because of its disruptive nature. Manufacturers will no longer have to follow conventional practices, especially when it comes to product and goods personalization. Prototyping and product design, customization, endpoint production and even industrial development will all change irrevocably, hopefully for the better. And all of these things have a huge impact on the world of business, as a whole.
Welcome to the future of business.