The Small Technology with Big Effects.
3-D printing is one of the most compact and efficient power-stations of a technology the world has seen in some time. 3-D printers pack a wallop, doing an incredible amount of good work with a small bundle of equipment that doesn’t take up a lot of space.
3-D printing means fabricating objects of all kinds by spraying layer after layer of plastics, polymers and other materials onto a mold, which is driven by software. This is similar to the way a traditional printer shoots layer after layer of ink onto a sheet of paper.
Just in Time Printing
The opportunities for small businesses to benefit from 3-D printing are great, and it’s still early enough to recognize this emerging trend and seize an advantage. One opportunity for the entrepreneur is to set up a business manufacturing some particular niche product. You have the design at the ready, with some produced 3-D prototypes. From there, it’s a matter of placing orders with various companies that are there to do the printing for you. In this scenario, you have no inventory, and you don’t even have to go out and buy a 3-D printer.
Think Locally and Act Locally
However, there’s another scenario, one that involves owning a printer or two. A business that integrates 3-D printing into its operations becomes part of its own supply chain, fabricating some of the parts and materials necessary to the business, rather than purchasing them. While small objects, about the size of a liter of soda, are the most practical, pioneers in 3-D tech are experimenting with such diverse manufacturing feats as bringing to life sugar confections, pizzas, entire houses, and, in the case of surgeon Anthony Atala, a human bladder. Atala is now trying to ease a kidney out a 3-D printer.
The 2014 Wohler’s report tells us that in 2013, the 3-D biz pumped out $3.07 billion in products and services. This correlates to a growth rate of 34.9%. The growth figures to continue, with more and more uses and products coming through the pipeline. 3D Systems, for example, is coming out with its CubePro, a desktop printer about the size of the carrier in which you take your dog to the vet. Another model, the CubeJet, retails at less than $5,000, to give you an idea of the options out there.
Putting on 3-D glasses while using a 3-D printer is surely not necessary—just something to do to have fun looking like a dork. The big thing is to look for ways to integrate the technology into your business in a way that can save you money, time, and headaches. With some forethought, integrating 3DP into your company can give you a serious advantage over your competitors.
As you can see above with the examples of kidneys and entire homes, 3-D printing represents a revolution in how products are brought to life—a sort of post-industrial industrial revolution.