Ways 3D Printing Technology Can Benefit Small Businesses
Most people now consider 3D printing as part of our manufacturing future, but it’s still firmly nestled in the ‘it doesn’t apply to me’ category. They think it’s for expensive projects, for companies with huge budgets to invest in the necessary equipment.
And while that was certainly true just a few short years ago, 3D printing has made tremendous strides since then. Printers are far more affordable, they’re accessible, and have the range to be seriously useful for all kinds of businesses. Yes, even small organizations can benefit from this technology.
But Wait, How Do I Get a 3D Printer?
Before we get into the good stuff, a quick stop to give you the barebones on how you, as a small business owner, can get your hands on a 3D printer (and how to go about it). Most guides will give you all of the advantages, but don’t actually tell you how small businesses can join the fun.
And as luck would have it, we’ve already put together a guide on everything you need to know before buying a 3D printer. Here’s a condensed version:
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). This is (probably) the model you want, as it’s the most common and cost-effective. It will work very well for most use cases.
- Price. The all-important question. Professional models start at $2000. Don’t pay anything below $1000, or you’ll end up with a substandard product.
- Know your filaments. 3D printers use filaments to create the product; there are several types, such as ABS, PVA, PLA, and Nylon. Choose yours based on your product spec.
From Idea to (Cheap) Functional Prototype
For small businesses, it’s not always easy to get from a solid idea to a functional prototype. Getting that proof of concept off the ground can often be critical to a project’s success, as it’s something tangible for both investors and potential customers.
However, traditional methods translate to high initial costs, often prohibitively so. 3D printing changes that. Once you’ve invested in your model, all you’re paying for is the materials.
There’s also the whole time = money concept. With traditional methods, you’ll be left waiting weeks (or even months!) before you get a working prototype. And this is just for the first version. We’re not even including the back and forth between your business and the manufacturer to make necessary tweaks. This lengthy turnaround can make all the difference, as the timing of a product launch is often just as important as the actual product itself.
Quality and Precision = Top Notch
Cheap does not equal low quality. And when it comes to 3D printing, it’s almost the exact opposite. As long as you invest in a decent model, you’ll be churning out high-quality products at an extremely low cost. When competing against the Amazons of this world, you need to ensure your product matches (or even exceeds) your competitor’s level of quality. With 3D printing, you can do just that.
This is because 3D printing works on a computational basis. Each and every product will be identical to one another, minimizing QC issues. Think about it: there’s a reason why major industries rely on 3D printing for products such as dental braces, aircraft and satellite parts, and bioprinting. Where precision is of primary importance, 3D printing is your port of call.
Short Product Runs are Possible
Small businesses often just need a low four-figure run of a particular product. Sometimes, even just a few dozen samples will do. Traditional manufacturers, however, don’t always make this easy. There’s often a minimum order number, and the per-item cost can be prohibitively high when running a small batch of products.
3D printing erases this problem completely. The number of products you churn out is entirely up to you, whether it’s just a single item or thousands. All you need is enough material and your printer will do the rest.
Take Production In-House
Many small businesses have thought about cutting out the middleman and running production in-house. Traditional manufacturing makes this practically impossible: you’ll need far more space (which means higher rent), more operators (training and staff costs), and not to mention the service and maintenance requirements.
3D printers, however, occupy far less space. You also won’t need many people to oversee the process, and the printer itself is usually covered by a guarantee (in case you have any issues with parts or performance). 3D printing can make a full in-house manufacturing unit a reality for your business.
You Don’t Even Need to Own One
We’ll leave you with this nugget: the industry now offers 3D printing services that mean you don’t even need to own one yourself. Yes, the per-item cost will be higher, but for prototypes or small runs, it’s the perfect solution.
This pretty much takes the main objection out of the equation. With minimal investment, it’s possible for a small business owner to experience the benefits of 3D printing. Why not give it a whirl?