The Power Of A 3D Printer In Business

With our jobs post, 3D Printing and Materials Skills In Demand, we had a number of conversations about entrepreneurial opportunities in the world of Additive Manufacturing. Since many new graduates from various materials science or additive manufacturing technician programs often contemplate starting their own 3D printing businesses, this post will take a look at some of the non-traditional paths that AM offers to the startup-mindset.

We mentioned 3D Hubs in the April 2017 AM News and it provides a good base of ideas for ways people are operating small print shops. 3D Hubs is an online network of 3D printer owners who operate as mini service bureaus to print parts for customers. It does an annual 3D printer guide (link at end of post) that is one of the best anywhere due to the fact that they have so many owners gathered in one place who are willing to provide input and feedback about their particular models. These are the super-users, the experts who are printing hundreds of objects over many hours, so they have invested a lot more time than the standard hobbyist.

Here is an ongoing, working list of business types that are actively building out 3D printing services to an existing business or a creating a new venture:

  • CNC Machine Shops / Fabricators: Though these are the more traditional “subtractive” manufacturers, milling, cutting, and grinding material; many of them are looking at how 3D printing can help them show a mockup concept faster and cheaper.
  • Architects: This industry is constantly creating building mockups out of foam or balsa wood… Quite a few are using 3D printers, and if they are not, you could pitch your services.
  • Building Contractors
    • Historic Homes / Specialty Building: James Alday is a 3D modeler and 3D printer owner who does work for specialty builders. On his site, you can see specific historic ceiling tile work on his ImmersedN3D
    • Lighting
    • Interior Decorating
    • Plumbing
    • HVAC
  • Vintage Vehicles
  • Vintage Collectibles (3D printed replicas; see Catzpaw below)
  • Education / Schools
  • 2D Printer / Copy Centers
  • Laser Engraving / Trophy Shops: Look at Epilog Laser’s website for case studies and you will find great examples of people running businesses in this and other niches.
  • Local Tourist Shops
  • Hobbyists (lots of options for selling to this niche)
    • Hobbyist example: Model Train accessories at CatzPaw
    • Your Own Indie Retail Store (Etsy, Shapeways, etc)
    • Hobby: Jewelry. You could do prototypes for Jewelry makers.
  • Legal: James Goodnow, an attorney who is using 3D in his litigation work. You can read about it here on Autodesk’s Redshift: Thinking in 3D.
  • Media / Local Websites and Newspapers and Magazines
  • Medical and Dental
  • Meetups (hardware startups needing prototypes?)
  • Etsy shop owners (you can help them make new creations)
    • Professional Artists –John Biehler has a terrific art project going with an internationally known Canadian artist: Douglas Coupland on the 3DCanada Project.
  • Farmers Markets – (many vendors need stands or special racks to hold their products. Alternatively, some vendors are looking for new products and you could sell your designs via a similar artist or vendor, if your ideas fit their theme.)

Additional resources: 3D Hubs 2017 3D Printer Guide mentioned earlier in the post.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Forbes: Ultimaker 3 And The Power Of A 3D Printer In Business

The original AM News post: 3D Printing and Materials Skills In Demand

If you are a recent graduate or soon to be, this post may offer some potential ideas for a new business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *