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Not too long ago I attended a workshop at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce on 3D printing. It was absolutely fascinating how far the technology has progressed. They had a small 3D printer at the event that made money clips while we watched.
What is 3D Printing?
So, what is 3D printing? Well, from a very basic sense it is the creation of a three-dimensional solid object from a digital file. What I witnessed was an additive process where a money clip was created by laying down successive layers of material until it was completed.
Now, while the actual making of the 3D object seemed quite simple (if you have the material and machine of course), you need to have someone that is experienced in creating a virtual design in a 3D digital file. Because the quality of the output of the 3D printing is dependent upon how well someone has designed the file.
This isn’t just a simple quick process. The machine that was displayed melted a plastic material and laid it down onto a print platform layer by layer. As I said, they were just printing a simple money clip but it still took quite a bit of time. More complicated items, depending on size, can take hours to complete.
Various 3D Printing Materials Available
3D printing materials vary depending on what you need (and type of printer you have) from plastics to rubber, metals, sandstone, alloy and more. New materials and machines are being introduced regularly.
As you can imagine, the first 3D printers were mostly for industrial use and were extremely expensive. But in 2009 one of the 3D printing technology patents expired and the first desktop versions appeared. This opened up the 3D printing experience to consumers. What once cost more than $200,000 could now be purchased for $2000. In 2016, almost 300,000 consumer 3D printers were sold and that figure could double in 2017.
3D Printing is Natural for some Industries
There are some natural areas where 3D printing makes sense. I, admit, I watch Grey’s
Anatomy on TV. And last season (I think) they were using a 3D printer to create an organ replica that they could utilize to determine the best way to operate as well as organ valves to use for transplants. And it’s not just on TV, this technology is being utilized in the healthcare industry regularly.
Of course, the car industry has been making 3D models for quite some time, but having this technology will increase the accuracy of the car manufacturing process.
When I mention 3D printing to people, they all immediately think real estate developers. Think about designing a building complex and being able to easily “3D print” your vision. While it would take time to print, it would still be faster than having a team actually make a model.
I have heard that mechanics like a 3D printer to print parts they can no longer find (think antique cars) or those that are trying to develop new technologies and the part they feel they need has never existed. They can design the specs and print exactly what they need instead of trying to work around what parts do exist.
3D Printing Technology Tests Concepts Economically
Many industries use the technology to test new concept to see if they work properly before they go to the expense of having to develop the machinery to make it. It should help to increase innovation while keeping costs down because the experimental phase is less expensive and easier to test.
In the long run I do feel that 3D printing will revolutionize how we think. The technology will become even faster and less expensive. At some point, instead of going to the store for something we may just print it!
I read an article a while back where a dress was made from 3D printed plastic. It supposedly swayed like a real dress. I personally can’t imagine it being comfortable, but think about all the possibilities in the future. You have a big event coming up and instead of shopping you design your gown! Granted it’s probably not realistic for the average consumer, but down the road it could be.
3D and Sales Promotion a Possibility
For now, I’m not sure that 3D printing can be used for large scale promotional marketing programs. The individual nature of the printing at this stage is still too costly to make it effective. However, you could use the technology to entice people to come to your brick & mortar location. Depending on your business you could have a variety of 3D designs available that are easily personalized. You could almost make it a “personalized” gift with purchase.
The beauty of that is you can have more interaction with your customer. I guarantee most will be fascinated to watch their item being made. And if they don’t want to wait the hour or so for their printed item, they then come back to your location to pick it up. Which will Give you another business opportunity to make an impression and form a relationship with your customer.
If they don’t want a personalized item, you could have other items that they could choose from that were 3D printed. I didn’t need a money clip, but I took one because I thought it was so fascinating how it was made before my eyes.
There truly is no limit to 3D printing now, other than the limitation of your budget and imagination and as time progresses it will become even more affordable.