There’s no shortage of hype around 3D printing, more technically known as additive manufacturing. Since the time that the general public became widely aware of it, claims ranging from the mass elimination of traditional manufacturing jobs to a complete and radical overhauling of the global economy have been made because of it. With so many massive assumptions about the future of 3D printing, it may seem rather mundane to think of it being applied in real life by actual businesses. In reality, though, that’s where this new technology is seeing the most use. Here are three of the exciting ways in which 3D printing is being put into action by smaller businesses and startup companies.
Rapid and Inexpensive Prototype Iteration
One of the things that most distinguishes small and large businesses is the money and resources they can put into the development of new products. What may seem little more than a drop in the bucket to a massive firm could be the entire annual development budget for a small, local business. 3D printing is helping to close that gap by making the early stages of development faster and less expensive. Because multiple versions of a design can be iterated quickly without the need for outside machining or fabrication, 3D printing allows smaller businesses to keep up with their larger competitors by making it cheaper and easier to create new and better products.
Most people think of customized products as being high-end and expensive. With 3D printing, however, this vision of customization is gradually becoming less and less accurate. In much the same way that it brings down the cost of prototyping, 3D printing also allows for low-cost customization of existing designs. Small businesses and startups have used this fact to create everything from earbuds custom-made to fit the ears of individual users to custom 3D-printed prosthetic limbs.
Offering 3D Printing as a Service
One of the most innovative models that small businesses have used to succeed with 3D printing is offering it as a service. Though 3D printing is certainly becoming more democratized than it once was, getting high-quality prints still takes a certain degree of skill and know-how. For this reason, small businesses that print objects for other businesses and individuals have been remarkably successful. One of the best examples of this business model is a Brooklyn-based company called Voodoo Manufacturing, which handles bulk 3D print orders. Voodoo and other companies like it allow other businesses to outsource their 3D printing needs to specialists, turning printing into both a manufacturing process and a service model in its own right.
These are just some of the ways in which small businesses are using 3D printing. As additive manufacturing technology continues to become a larger and larger part of our day-to-day lives, it’s likely that even more innovative uses for it will emerge. The proliferation of 3D printing in business is also one of the largest reasons that it’s important to introduce children to the technology at an early age with classroom printers like those offered by Me3D, as many future jobs may use it in some way.