3-D Printing: What Does the Future Hold?

3-D printing may not have arrived at most small and medium sized businesses yet, but with costs decreasing and quality improving almost daily, it’s only a matter of time before they become ubiquitous. Considering the profound effect 3-D printing will likely have on the economy and the world in general, we thought it was time to provide our clients with more information on the opportunities and challenges that this exciting new technology brings with it.

Traditional models of production revolve around the idea of economies of scale. Companies aim to produce a standardized product in a specific manufacturing plant. When you standardize a product and produce a high volume in the same location you are able to reduce costs. With the advent of 3-D printing it will become possible to customize goods to a much greater extent (with minimal effect on cost) because altering won’t require retooling; only tweaking the instructions in the software (Harvard Business Review).

And as businesses move away from traditional production methods they will be able to manufacture goods much closer to the point of purchase. Although this may result in higher production costs, they will be offset by the reduction in shipping and transit costs (Harvard Business Review). You could, for example, apply this technology to making car parts at dealerships and repair shops, thus reducing the need for complex factories and supply chain management.

The uses of 3-D printing are seemingly endless. You can produce almost anything, from something as simple as a paperweight, to a drone with a built in camera, to a clock robot that writes and erases the time every minute. Regardless of how wacky or novel the product, it’s likely a 3-D printer can make it. If your business normally gives out small promotional materials or you give a yearly gift to customers you can now insource the production and save time and money.

This is a very similar situation to the one the printing industry faced a decade ago. Consumers had such easy access to high quality printers that it became almost unnecessary to rely on custom print shops. Companies were finding they could print their materials more cheaply, easily, and conveniently in house. This is likely to be repeated at the outset of consumer level 3-D printing. We recently stopped outsourcing our printing and the savings were remarkable.

A few years ago 3-D printing was expensive and only accessible to universities or large corporations. Now 3-D printers are easily affordable even for home users. With many different options available in the $300-$1000 range, every business owner should begin considering the relevance of 3-D printing for their business. Prices for 3-D printers keep coming down so if you’re at all interested in the technology make sure to keep your eyes peeled for new and innovative products.