In the past, 3D modeling has most commonly been used in specific industries, such as games, films, medical fields and real estate. However, with the ease of acquiring 3D design software and lowered costs of 3D printers, more and more businesses are starting to see the advantages of utilizing this technology to reach customers.
If you run a business that sells concepts, 3D printing can help take you to the next level by showing customers just what you are capable of producing. At the same time, you won’t have the high production costs of creating a one-off prototype of a product. You’ll just print it out on your printer. Or, if you are working from a prototype, you might need to quickly add to it or change it.
One of the biggest advantages of 3D design is that you can create single items as cheaply as thousands of items, so smaller companies can compete without worrying about scale.
There are many different ways businesses can use 3D printers to grow their companies.
3D design allows entrepreneurs and small businesses to try out a product design before committing to a larger production run or releasing it to the public. For example, a company that makes kitchen products may come up with a design for a new tool to remove fat from browned ground beef.
Instead of paying for a pricey prototype, the company prints a 3D version of the tool and tries it out in their test kitchen. They can make adjustments in the design software, print a second version, try it out, and so on.
Once the company is happy with the design of the product, they can then print several copies. They have the product tested by actual consumers to see what kind of feedback they get.
Ramp Up Quality
Today’s 3D printers create some of the highest-quality components around. If you test a new material and find it isn’t up to par, you’ve only created one of the items. You haven’t wasted a lot of time or money on trying to develop something better that ultimately flopped.
Perhaps you are one of several companies offering the same type of product. There are many ways to set yourself apart, but having the highest-quality inventory means your offerings are durable, and customers will come to rely on you. You won’t spend millions of dollars testing different components and materials. You can run experiments on-the-fly and work with your engineers to perfect the design before you offer it to your users.
Companies such as GE are using 3D printers to make parts as a single piece, meaning they are more durable and longer-lasting. You can further refine the product with techniques such as vibratory finishing. Using the latest advances helps smooth any rough edges and ensures there are no issues with functionality.
Offer Clients Samples
When working with a client, they may want a sample to get an idea of what the finished product will look like. Architects use this technique frequently. When designing an office building, for instance, they create a 3D model that allows the client to move around walls and see up close just what the finished building will look like.
Imagine that you own an architectural design firm, and you present a 3D model to a client, but a similar small company does not or creates a less refined model. Who do you think will impress the client more? 3D models have been used in architecture for many years, but they are now much easier to create than in years past.
Create Custom Parts
Imagine a world where you can easily get that part for your vintage 1968 refrigerator without having to pay a fortune. That is what the 3D printer is capable of. Designers can now recreate a part to the exact dimensions and details needed for almost any appliance or other item. You simply order it, they design and print, and you’re in business.
If you are a business that sells parts, this can help you expand your revenue. If you own a business in a different industry, you will likely have a machine break down at some point. You can save money by having a part created and keeping your machines running for longer. About 75% of today’s top manufacturing companies use 3D printing for either quick prototypes or custom parts.
Promote Medical Advances
For those who work in medical industries, the 3D printer is an exciting development. For example, a baby born with a heart defect might not find a human donor. However, a new heart could be designed and printed on a 3D printer. There’s still a ways to go with this technology, but one day we may be to be able to print practically anything a patient needs. Already, doctors have printed jaws, hips and body braces.
When it comes to creating body parts, they must be precise down to the tiniest details. 3D printing offers the capability to create extremely exact parts.
Bring Imagination Alive
Consider industries such as entertainment and toys. What if 3D models could bring your favorite settings and characters alive for you? You could have an entirely immersive experience. Children’s books could become more interactive than ever before.
In the toy industry, a favorite lost toy could be reproduced, even if it’s no longer in production. Or, if a part broke, the toy could be easily repaired with a custom-created part.
Try out new materials for a fraction of the cost to make items lighter, more durable or more interesting. Instead of completely retooling for manufacturing, you can first try the material via 3D printing and then conduct testing to make sure it works.
Having a 3D printer in-house can save a company time. For example, Harvey Water Softeners made new equipment for about 40 years by coming up with a concept, working on a design, ordering prototypes and going through a lengthy manufacturing process that took a lot of time and money.
Although they invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into 3D printers, they saved money in the long run. The 2019 Wohlers Report predicts spending for 3D printing will reach $23.9 billion by 2022. The ability to print quickly in-house saves companies time and money. . If they test out a new water heater and a part isn’t working or breaks, they can just print a new one. This saves money because everything is on-site. This saves enormous amounts of time because there is no waiting for a third party to design and manufacture the product.
3D printing isn’t replacing all the systems in a company in most cases. It allows companies to open up to new ideas and try out concepts without breaking the bank or using up precious time. For example, if a company sells a product and one of the engineers has an idea for how to improve it, they could print out a part of two to test the idea. If it works, the product would be improved virtually overnight.
Lower Startup Costs
It’s expensive to start a new business. If you manufacture a product, the cost of getting up and running is astronomical. Molds alone cost thousands of dollars. Now, businesses can save as much as $10,000 in mold fees by using 3D printers. Reducing startup costs allows more people to enter the business realm in the first place. It also reserves funds for first-year startup costs such as salaries, marketing and securing a space for the business.
For businesses already in existence, purchasing a 3D printer can lower the cost of adding new products. The trial and error of creating molds, testing, discovering the item needs refinements, and paying for molds again goes away.
Hire Fewer Employees
While everyone wants to do their part to help the economy tick along, the cost of hiring employees adds up. A 3D printer is particularly helpful to smaller businesses that might create labor-intensive items. The printer takes over much of the work, but it takes only one person to operate the machine instead of multiple people to develop the product.
Automate processes and take advantage of remote operations. With all the recent health scares, your employee might appreciate the opportunity to design and print from home rather than coming into the office. Or, if the employee is out for the day, the remote operation feature allows them to send commands to the printer from anywhere. You can also check-in and ensure you fulfill custom orders in a timely fashion.
Probably one of the most important aspects of utilizing 3D printing is the ability to save money. While we’ve touched on that concept a bit already, there are some companies already using the technology to get ahead.
Ford Motor Company has used 3D printers since the 1980s. They recently created an engine cover for the Ford Mustang and saved about $500,000 while shaving down processing time from four months to four days. Since time is money, reducing the time from concept to viable product equals higher profits. However, the overall cost of manufacturing also drops drastically with 3D printing.
Today you purchase a 3D printer for much less that you could in the not-too-distant past. A decent printer would cost you around $1000, or you could invest in a higher-end model for more capabilities. This newfound affordability makes this groundbreaking technology accessible to many more businesses and individuals.
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About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.