Old technology, new applications.
Four months ago, I started a 3D printing company called 3by3D. We make creative and "funexpected" 3D printed consumer products—jewelry, art, gadgets, accessories, miniatures, etc. In a previous article, I talked about why I've jumped head first into creating stuff with this potentially disruptive technology.
Remember, 3D printing is NOT new; inventor Chuck Hall first came up with the process in 1984, more commonly known back then as "stereolithography". In the past few years, though, the technology has come a long way—and now it's cheaper and more accessible than ever.
The best part? You don't need to own a 3D printer to capitalize on the power of 3D printing. You don't need to be a genius 3D modeler. You don't even need to be that creative. What you DO need is an idea for something to create.
But before you start making things with a 3D printer, you need to understand how 3D printing is changing the product development game. And once you know what you don't know about this technology, you can figure out the best way to make it work for you.
Here's what you might not realize: 3D printing levels the playing field, and opens new doors, for people who want to develop products. For entrepreneurs, for employees, for anyone with an idea of something to create, 3D printing helps you make that idea REAL in a way you never could before.
To watch an Instagram home video of the 3D printing process in action, click here.
3D printed coral bracelet, made at home on my red Printrbot Simple Metal 3D printer.
And now: the 3.5 reasons why you need to start 3D printing. Right now.
1. 3D printing makes prototyping physical products faster and cheaper. Have the idea. Model it in 3D. Print it at home with your own 3D printer—or have it manufactured by a company such as Shapeways in NYC. Two weeks from idea to package at your front door. My freelance 3D modelers in Romania, who I found onElance, have charged approximately $30 to $70 USD per project (gotta love those exchange rates).
2. It's not just throwaway trinkets anymore. Now, you can 3D print in legit materials: steel, full color sandstone, precious metals, strong and flexible nylon plastic, glass, wax—you name it. So far, 3D printing has enabled me to create physical prototypes for more than fifty different products across a range of verticals. In four months. Now, thanks to this wide swath of product ideas to choose from, I don't have to put all my eggs in one basket; instead, I can test product-market fit for all of them—and then focus on the ones with the most promise.
3. If you use a manufacturer like Shapeways, everything is printed on demand.* No minimum quantities. No economies of scale. This means for each product I've prototyped and 3D printed, the total cost from idea to finished product has been as little as $30 all in—with the highest amount probably being in the $150 range. This is a tiny amount compared to traditional processes for prototyping (e.g. plastic injection molding), which can take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
[*BONUS: If you own a 3D printer, you can also—by definition—print "on demand".]
3.5. 3D printing craves tech development. Many of the big 3D printing manufacturers, Shapeways included, offer the ability to develop apps that link directly to their printing system. It's a virtually untapped market right now, though there are a few notable standouts: ring creator, 2D to 3D transformer, custom sake cup set. The huge potential here is to develop an app that allows users to personalize and 3D print their own unique product: sculptures, home goods, fully-articulated action figures—the potential is (almost) limitless.
The skinny on 3D printing
3D printing has blown up the traditional product prototyping process. You could use 3D printing to design and create your own unique products. You could develop an app for a 3D marketplace like Shapeways to let people create their own stuff. You could even start a company that exclusively does app development for 3D printing platforms.
Whatever you do with 3D printing, don't wait too long before you start. Jump in now and take advantage of this disruptive technology—before everyone else does.
What do you think? How can you use 3D printing to create something people have never seen before?