What was once a science-fiction dream has become a reality in almost every facet of our lives. From airplane and car parts to medical devices, new homes, replacement parts, furniture, footwear, and food all can be made using 3D printing.
When I was explaining this article to my wife, she looked at me thoroughly confused. “You can’t print a house or parts for an engine on our printer” she exclaimed! And she’s right. While our printer can’t do that, specially made printers used in additive manufacturing most certainly can.
The process is truly amazing! In additive manufacturing, the name for the 3D printing process, products are made by building up layers of material to form the finished piece. The process is similar to how a laser jet printer works. A “print” head moves across the area of the product being built, depositing thin layers of the build material. Depending on what’s being made, it might require hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of these layers to complete the project.
Imagine you own a vintage car needing a replacement part that’s not made anymore. You might find it searching junkyards or you might be able to have it made using 3D printing at a very reasonable cost. The spend for 3D printing today in healthcare for equipment, implants, devices, and prosthetics is $1.7 billion and is expected to reach $5.8 billion by 2027 in the U.S. alone.
For those in the promotional products world, 3D printing can help grow your business. As our industry has evolved from simply selling branded products to more of an agency approach, understanding new technologies and using them to separate yourself from the pack is imperative. 3D printing isn’t a passing fad and is something you can start using immediately.
3D printing is rapidly changing, but even small distributors and suppliers can take advantage of this amazing process to grow their business and wow their customers. To get you thinking about how you can use this amazing technology, here are some ways 3D printing is revolutionizing our industry:
Get Creative: This technology enables us to create thousands of products using a wide variety of materials. Vases, picture frames, children’s toys, bag clips, chess sets, bookmarks, mechanical wall clocks, holiday ornaments, miniature airplanes and cars, small boxes, custom dice, pill holders, and signs are just a smattering of what can be created using 3D printing.
Check out Thingiverse for more ideas and use your own imagination to create unique concepts for your customers. Some products might still require decoration with logos, but given color capabilities using 3D printing, you might even be able to incorporate a logo into the design.
Prototypes: When we pitch unique ideas to our customers, they usually want to see a sample. Depending on the idea, creating a 3D printed prototype could save you time and money and be exactly what you need to close the sale. Why communicate with overseas factories and deal with supply chain issues when you could work with a local company that specializes in 3D printing to develop the design and print the prototype? Finding local 3D printers is as easy as a Google search or go to makexyz. Currently, there are 15 UPS Store locations where you can print your prototypes, but UPS plans to have over 100 locations in the near future.
Inventory: Print-on-Demand and Just-in-Time inventory cut down on physical inventory and save the costs of holding and storing products. 3D printing means you can produce small or large quantities of products in a very short amount of time. Of course, not everything can be 3D printed, but many items can be quickly and easily produced and decorated.
Sustainable: Additive manufacturing is, by its very nature, a more sustainable way of creating products. 3D manufacturing reduces material waste, processing time, and required equipment. And the materials chosen for manufacturing are varied and include many options to use recycled or even natural materials. According to a Michigan Technological University study, 41-64% less energy is used to 3D print an object compared to overseas manufacturing and shipping to the US.
In fact, shipping could be one of the biggest cost savings if you’re currently having your products produced overseas. Not to mention the peace of mind you’ll have knowing your products aren’t caught up in the supply chain nightmare the world is currently experiencing.
3D printer prices range from $400 (for a hobbyist) to hundreds of thousands of dollars (for manufacturing), so it makes sense to partner with a company specializing in additive manufacturing. Find a 3D printing facility to partner with, one that can create the 3D CAD designs and print the final product, be it a dozen or 10,000 pieces.
Be sure to watch this fun video to give you an idea of what can be printed using additive manufacturing.
In the meantime, I don’t think I’ll be eating 3D printed meat anytime soon, but 3D printed chocolate, I’m all in!