3D-printing is a new up-and-coming line of business. 3D market is growing annually and the demand for one-of-a-kind products is steadily increasing. Today, almost anyone can get a 3D printer at a reasonable price. However, most new technologies require major investments and professional marketing.
The term “3D Printing” was coined in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, USA, in 1995. The term covers a variety of processes in which material is formed or solidified in accordance with a certain digital model. At the moment, printers for medical and educational purposes, confectionery production, car and aircraft industries, production of engineering and architectural 3D models are available on the market.
3D printing applications
Any object, which can be made out of plastic, metal, plaster, paper, biopolymers or food fiber can serve as a model for a 3D printer. Such machines have a great scope of application.
- Figurines of people, animals, exact copies of architectural structures and places of attraction.
- Custom interior items.
- Garment accessories.
- Accessories – jewelry, eyeglass frames, decorative elements, jewelry
- Design models of houses, cottages, residential and housing complexes, neighborhoods.
- Promotional merchandise.
- Casting molds.
- Prototypes of cars, motorcycles, airplanes and other vehicles.
- Tools and appliances for cooking and crafting.
- Visual teaching aids – components and structures of machines, parts of plants, organs of the human body.
- Prosthetics, orthopedic and medical products for various purposes.
- Stationery and office supplies.
- Household goods.
- Components and spare parts for auto, aerospace and military industries
- Sports equipment and inventory.
There are several ways to use 3D printing to make profit.
3D printing services
This business offers 3D printing services to everyone – for a reasonable price you can print your own 3D models or have one developed for you. List of services can be expanded by 3D modeling courses. The best option for business is a full-color multipurpose MJM type printer, which works with go-to materials (plastic, plaster and resin) and is able to produce practically any model.
One of the most outstanding players on the 3D printing market is Shapeways, a service launched in 2007. In the first year of operation, the company completed a little less than a thousand orders; by the end of 2013, volume of production reached more than 700,000 details. Now the company operates 50 devices and employs 90 people. The company has modern models of FDM, EBM, SLS and DMLS devices and performs printing with plastic, metal and ceramic powder, resins and nylon.
Equipment and consumables distribution
Equipment and consumables distribution does not require great investments. There’s no need to buy equipment in bulk, you just have to conclude an official contract with a reliable supplier – a manufacturer or a large distributor, which can provide both equipment and consumables. In this case, costs are reduced to creating and launching a website, registering a business, purchasing the consumables (it is preferable for them to be available) and renting a warehouse. The equipment is usually prepaid.
Business is organized in the following way:
- The client chooses the desired model on the website, consults an expert and transfers the prepayment.
- The money for the ordered device is immediately transferred to the supplier, the time and method of delivery are agreed upon.
- When received, the order is sent to the customer.
- Sale of consumable materials is conducted online.
Production and further distribution of the souvenirs
To start a business, you’ll need a facility, printing equipment (preferably a full-color multipurpose printer, which can print using plastic, plaster and ceramics), consumable materials and an online store to sell the finished goods.
The possibilities are endless – unique cookie-cutters and molds for cooking, trendy jewelry, mugs and bowls with 3D lettering or patterns. As the Wohlers’ scientists study shows, from 2012 to 2020 the market for 3D printed goods has doubled, so overall this is a very promising field.
Challenges in 3D printing business
3D printed figurines are much more expensive than hand-cast ones. But the technology is relatively new, so using it to make profit poses a number of difficulties.
- Equipment for printing and souvenir production is rarely cheap. Buying pre-owned or low-quality machines is not an option. The device, which uses only cheap one-color plastic and does not allow for production of small details and complex shapes, is very limited in capabilities.
- To operate a modern, multipurpose printer you will need a highly qualified professional, who can create the design, decide which material to use and whether it is possible to produce a certain model on a certain device.
- It is very expensive to generate new ideas for high-quality original products. Many European 3D printing companies partner with creative studios, agencies or independent artists to be able to extend the product range and offer intricate, unique objects.
- Online stores only. Offline shops distribute conventionally produced products. They are usually produced by molding, and much cheaper than 3D printed goods, although they are practically identical.