The more creativity plays a role at your company, the more you can get out of a 3D printer. It’ll materialize almost anything as long as you have the right file data (think of something between schematics and coordinates) and build your desired object. It’s an investment in the range of thousands of dollars that could result in profits in the millions. It’s just a matter of knowing how to use it to get the most out of it.
What Can It Do?
Having been around for several years now, it seems as if we’ve already seen the full potential of 3D printing, with the first 3D printed car being built in 2014. Labelled as the first of its kind, it took 44 hours to develop and attach the frame, body, and fender (the steering wheel, engine, and seats were added later). If that isn’t enough to convince you of its uses, one of the 3D printer’s most beneficial applications is in crafting artificial limbs or organs for patients. Meanwhile, there are 3D printers large enough to print furniture.
Since a 3D printer typically costs thousands of dollars, it’s a costly investment and not one to make casually. But it’s the ability to build models that will provide a business with one of its best uses. From creating miniature structures (buildings, homes, and landscapes) to building a crucial prototype for your business, the printer creates the object through a digital representation, growing it layer-by-layer with your chosen material. It could be any sort of plastic or polymer, ceramic, or different type of metal like gold, steel, or titanium; even fabrics like power mesh, heat-sealable nylon, or cotton/polyester broadcloth are options available for 3D printer production.
What Can I Use It For?
Before thinking that you found a solution to your missing paperclips problem, you should know that a 3D printer is not Staples. The cost and speed issues make the manufacturing process for everyday items more than troublesome. However, it’s ideal for low-yield manufacturing for a smaller client base. Alternatively, if you’d like to get some feedback on a new product, 3D printing it would cost considerably less than outsourcing. You could essentially cut out the middleman and deliver directly to clients.
You can also make your own harder-to-come-by items, like unique office décor, personalized name plaques for desks or doors, pen and pencil holders, or even hanging planters. If you’re curious to see the depth of projects and schematics available for printing, just check out Thingiverse. It’s a directory of all sorts of items for 3D printing that even includes printing files for personal hobbies from miniature collections to figurines of pop culture characters.
A 3D printer could even help with repairs. If production comes to a halt because a machine needs a crucial and hard-to-find part, you could simply print it out rather than wait days or even weeks for the delivery of a replacement.
What Lies Ahead?
When forecasting the future of 3D printing, you could look to the youth. 3D printers are widely available in schools from elementary and on into universities and colleges. Educators consider the technology a great enhancement for students in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) curriculum. Even MIT and the University of Arizona offer classes on 3D printing as it’s becoming a necessity for some fields – and a growing industry in its own right.
As applications broaden, so does the technology to make 3D printing easier, faster, and more accessible. Global research company Gartner estimates an approximate growth rate of 75% for 3D printers over the next few years.
Home and office repairs, architecture, internal designers, fashion – the list of businesses that could profit from a 3D printer is virtually endless. There are two ways to look at it from a business perspective: if money isn’t an issue, you can use it all the time; on the other hand, if frugality is the way to go, be resourceful and decide carefully when you need (not want) to use it. It all depends on how clever you want to get.
Kevin Nwankwo | Contributing Writer