Advances in 3-D printing may soon make it possible for almost anyone to become a manufacturer, says HP Large Format Printing Business. High costs and precision printing limitations have kept 3-D printing from reaching its full potential until now, but HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3-D printer is changing that. The Multi Jet Fusion prints on scale of voxels, tiny cubes similar in concept to pixels but just 50 microns in size, allowing for a high degree of precision as well as higher bonding strength. Additionally, the Multi Jet Fusion prints 10 times faster than traditional 3-D printers while cutting costs by 50 percent. HP foresees the Multi Jet Fusion 3-D printer making mass customization easier and lowering the cost barrier for manufacturing start-ups, enabling any small business to manufacture at scale.

The Multi Jet Fusion illustrates how technological advances in 3-D printing are benefitting small businesses. Here’s a look at four other developments in 3-D printing that are giving small businesses a boost.

The Falling Cost of 3-D Printers

At the turn of the century, 3-D printers averaged tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost, putting them out of the range of most start-ups and smaller companies. In recent years, this price has fallen steadily, with an IBISWorld report showing that average prices dropped from nearly $14,000 in 2007 to about $8,000 last year.

For small businesses on a budget, 3-D printers can now be had for as low as few hundred dollars. Investment in innovation, falling costs of materials and increased competition have all combined to push prices down. IBISWorld projects that prices will continue to decline at 6.1 percent a year to 2019.

The Rise of 3-D Outsourcing Services

The falling cost of 3-D printing has fueled an explosion of 3-D outsourcing services. The global 3-D printing services market will grow from a value of $2.14 billion in 2016 to $9.28 in 2021, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 44 percent, Technavio estimates.

Both 3-D printing services as well as 3-D modeling services are being increasingly outsourced, saving small businesses the cost of investing in equipment as well as cutting the costs of prototyping and production. A prototype that may have once cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop may now be made for a few thousand dollars.

The Growing Specialization of 3-D Printing Services

With this increase in outsourcing availability has come growing specialization, as 3-D printing services market to clients in industries such as consumer products, automotive manufacturing, healthcare and aerospace. Companies that specialize in areas outside of 3-D printing are also using 3-D printing technology to serve markets in their niches. For instance, o-ring supplier Apple Rubber uses 3-D printing to offer a catalog of over 7,000 sizes of customized o-rings made out of a wide range of materials for specialized applications.

Printing services specializing in hundreds of areas, including 3-D modeling, prosthetics and electronics, can be easily found through 3-D printing directories. This increasing array of specialized services makes it easy for small businesses to introduce 3-D printing to new markets and expand into new niches.

The Increasing Diversity of 3-D Printing Materials

The growing availability of 3-D printing services has been matched by a growing diversity of 3-D printing materials. New photopolymers, thermoplastic filaments, thermoplastic powders and metal powders have been developed, along with materials for applications in areas such as concrete production, electronics and artificial organ printing.

This diverse range of materials is helping small businesses open up new markets and opportunities. For instance, Newark startup DeLUX Engineering, cofounded by an expert in material science, recently won a $100,000 Defense Department contract to develop a method of using 3-D printing to create radar systems that can fit into a given volume. For example, if a missile needs a guidance system added but there is limited space, DeLUX can print the electronics to fit without significantly altering the missile’s design.