3D printing has been on the rise in the industrial tech industry for several years now, but only recently has it become relevant to the consumer side of the business. As the price per unit and maintenance costs decrease, more small businesses are seeing 3D printing as a conceivable part of their operations. The global market is swelling and is expected to reach $16.2 billion by 2018, making the 3D printers an important resource for small businesses in many different ways.
Cheaper units and material will obviously help small businesses reduce the cost of production, but 3D printing has had a tremendous effect on the prototyping process. Businesses like Spuni have used 3D printers to create multiple prototypes in quick succession in order to avoid the slow pace of traditional manufacturing and produce them at a cheaper rate. A prototype can now be designed and produced in a matter of hours, instead of several days.
The company produced over 30 different designs of their baby spoon before finally going to market, and CEO Marcel Botha believes that process helped them create a better product. It cost about $5 to print one spoon, saving Spuni 10 times the amount it would have cost from a manufacturer.
Instead of prototyping, many companies are using 3D printing to manufacture their final product. Whether it means printing out important parts, or reducing the amount of pieces needed, 3D printers are changing the world of industrial production. A company called MrSpeakers prints essential parts of their headphones, allowing them to shift toward in-house production as they handcraft their merchandise. It might increase the cost of production, but it does allow them to commit to a certain level of quality, which customers appreciate. Obviously, every business is different, but if the tradeoff is worth it to your customers, it might be an idea worth pursuing.
According to author John Hornick, 3D printing is allowing many small businesses to compete with large corporations. 3D printing is huge in the aerospace industry, and the U.S. Marine Corps believes that the practice will allow many small businesses to compete with the big players in the defense contracting industry. High production costs can take many fledgling companies out of the competition, but 3D printers will help reduce that price and level the playing field for many.
For a small business, creating a design, sending it off to the manufacturer, getting it shipped, and making it available for purchase can take months. A special order that can take weeks to come might scare away potential customers, but by taking things in-house, you can take full control over your own business. 3D printing allows you to eliminate the middleman, making production faster and less expensive.
As traditional production is being replaced by 3D printing, new jobs are being created. Many have started small businesses that create 3D printings directly for consumers. Whether it be prototypes, designs, parts, or simple trinkets, fast and cheap production has its value, and is a good business model to support. There are many ways to make money off of 3D printing, you just have to choose which is right for your small business.
Brian Placios at Big Think believes that “the technology and capabilities of consumer machines and industrial machines will start to merge over time.” Right now, industrial 3D printing is far ahead, with bigger size machines and the capability to print various materials. Airbus expects to be 3D printing thirty tons of metal airplane parts by 2018, and it’s this type of dramatic development which would represent a real game-changer for so many industries. There are many opportunities for small businesses to take advantage of 3D printing, and those opportunities are only going to continue to grow. 3D printing for the small biz owner is the next big leap.