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What’s new with 3-D printing

3-D printing has exploded on the technology scene in recent years and has become an epic new transformation that is spawning all kinds of new business opportunities. In fact, comparisons are often made between 3-D printing and the Industrial Revolution that swept the world over two hundred years ago.




Just think for a moment about the game-changing implications of 3-D printing. If you’re running a startup or small business you’ll need a prototype or manufacturing strategy. The road from initial ideation to the point of having a product on the shelf traditionally has been a long and expensive one, involving an extensive supply chain that stretches from design to prototype and then to manufacture, assembly, distribution, warehouse, retail, and finally to the end-user. But now with 3-D printing an epic new manufacturing and retailing movement is upon us.

In 2013 one source said it this way, “For $1,299 . . . anyone can now buy a 3D printer, hook it up to a wi-fi network, and begin downloading files that will turn into real objects.” The price points have come down in the last year; for instance the well-known Cube 3-D Printer can be purchased for $999. And there are tons of 3-D printer manufacturer startups that are currently introducing devices to the market. Some major enterprise players in the 3-D printing space are 3D Systems, Stratasys, ExOne.

Indeed, the industry has really changed leaps and bounds in the past 12 months. 3-D printing services are now standard faire wherever you go, whether online or locally. Places like Sculpteo allow anyone to shop their online gallery of 3-D printed products – shoes, clothing, jewelry, toys, tools – or to upload their 3-D files and get the objects printed and sent to your home in a matter of a couple days. There is also an online directory called MakeXYZ where you can enter your location and get access to local 3-D printing services.




What’s more is that The UPS Store has become the first national retailer in the U.S. to introduce 3-D printing to the market. After a successful launch of 3D print in six markets across the country in 2013, the retailer recently expanded its services to nearly 100 additional locations nationwide to meet the growing demands of its small business customers.

With all this said, Gartner recently pointed out that 3-D printing is still several years away from mainstream adoption. Here’s their quote:

Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption,” said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner. “Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars. However, even this price is too high for mainstream consumers at this time, despite broad awareness of the technology and considerable media interest.”

As Gartner goes on to mention, the 3-D printing industry is complex and multi-layered; there are differences between consumer and enterprise 3-D printing, and it involves a “complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials whose use is not as simple to use as ‘hitting print’ on a paper printer.”




Suffice it to say, 3-D printing is a fast moving and exciting market that has huge potential for the startup and small business player. Let’s just outline here some major implications and what you need to keep in mind.

3-D printing is revolutionary: Fueled by the internet and the continued growth of open digital, mobile, and collaboration technologies, 3-D printing is already leading to revolutionary changes across many lines of business. In the years ahead major impacts will continue to be felt across industries and throughout society.

3-D printing is going mainstream: 3-D printers are becoming more advanced, prices are dropping, and printing services are growing. The technology will become ubiquitous so that anyone with an idea, a design, or model to print out and develop can do so efficiently and cost-effectively.

3-D printing democratizes manufacturing: 3-D printing represents a major disruption to the traditional manufacturing supply and reduces by orders of magnitude the time and expense of introducing products to the market.




3-D printing transforms retail & commerce: 3-D printing as a service is changing the way we shop online. Over the summer Amazon launched its 3-D printing store. Remember, as Amazon goes so does retail! We can only imagine the imminent revolution in this space. Instead of waiting for your merchandise to ship, more and more options will exist for printing it on your own or through a local 3-D printing service. Also, imagine having your 3-D printed merchandise delivered in 30 minutes or less by Amazon Prime Air.

Develop your 3-D printing strategy today: Startup and small businesses must begin to seriously consider how to adopt 3-D printing across their lines of business. Begin first by developing a roadmap to bring manufacturing in-house. Then consider how to spin off other initiatives within your vertical by offering 3-D printing as a service or rapid prototyping as a service. Investing in this space is a complete win-win proposition in terms of time and cost savings as well as future growth opportunities.

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About Jeffrey Walker

Jeff is a business development consultant who specializes in helping businesses grow through technology innovations and solutions. He holds multiple master’s degrees from institutions such as Andrews University and Columbia University, and leverages this background towards empowering people in today’s digital world. He currently works as a research specialist for a Fortune 100 firm in Boston. When not writing on the latest technology trends, Jeff runs a robotics startup called virtupresence.com, along with oversight and leadership of startuplabs.co - an emerging market assistance company that helps businesses grow through innovation.