3D printing has almost literally broken the mold. It has made many things that were thought to be impossible, into a reality. Although presently quite expensive, 3D printing is becoming more cost effective and providing effective solutions to some wealthy industries. This is causing some serious changes in the way we think about business. Moreover, due to the way that 3D printing works, it has the potential to completely revolutionize some present business models.
How does 3D printing work?
Via the use of a digital model, the printer creates objects by placing layer upon layer, until a physical object is produced. Ink is not used for this, but instead these printers use liquids, powders, paper and other forms of materials, often using plastic or metal for industry. However, some food products can already be printed, and there is work on using printers to produce organs.
Another effective marketing side of this printing technique is the possibility to personalize almost anything. The fact is that the personalized product is popular and 3D printing takes personalized to a whole new level of possibilities. Even replacement bones can now be printed, and companies are working on printed food and even printed body parts. It sounds farfetched, but this is the way of thinking that new businesses need to adapt to.
The ThingMaker from Mattel is a good example. The ThingMaker is an interesting twist for a ‘toy’ manufacturer. It is an online and offline product that combines an app for creative and easy to make designs, along with a small 3D printer to make them a reality. Effectively, it gives children the ability to make their own toys.
Take this to the larger scale of manufacturers, and suddenly personalization is an affordable possibility that no longer needs to be restricted by the number of items produced. With a 3D printer, there is no minimum or maximum for production. Yet, for traditional processes, thousands of items need to be produced to make any ‘personalization’ cost effective.
3D printing allows complex models and prototypes to be produced quickly and cost effectively. This means that variations can be tested easily, without a major issues. Effectively, this takes away the need for a long-winded production phase of prototype development, as it can be printed, adjusted and reprinted. This allows for rapid progression and cost savings.
At present, the cost isn’t yet low enough for a lot of bulk manufacturers to adopt. However, there could come a time when the use of construction and moulding is no longer required, when homes could be printed and printers could completely change the manufacturing business model.
With the possibility of personalization and cost effective designs going to the public, the industry will need to adapt business models to allow for interactive communication with customers, as they will get to input their ideas for the development of their products.
Printer Price Reductions
It is quite feasible that when the major printer producers get involved in this industry and competition heats up, that the printers themselves may be sold for much lower prices. As with ink printers, the business model allows for the production of a cheap printer in return for ongoing sales of expensive inks.
The producers of materials used by 3D printers could also produce these at cheaper prices via mass production. This would then make any printer manufacturer that aligned with them attractive in the market, as they would have the cheapest ‘ink’.
3D printers use software in order to produce the products. Autodesk produced the software for the Mattel ThingMaker. This software is given away for free online and in app stores. It sounds like an unprofitable approach. However, if the venture is a success, Autodesk is likely to gain many more customers by giving away the software. Not only by selling existing products, but also from industry leaders that want custom software. This kind of business model can lead to substantial profits. It is also not only limited to the software side, but designs could be used to attract customers too, free or paid, as there will be demand.
3D printing is not only evolving in its business models, but greatly impacting those in existence. As the technique becomes more cost effective, more and more industries will use it, and as a result it will restructure business approaches.