3D printing is one of those things that feels like an overnight trend but actually took decades to reach us. The first 3D printer was invented in 1984. That’s 29 years ago, so there is nothing overnight about the success of 3D printing. It’s an odd thing to try and explain because people invariably think of printing in the traditional ‘ink on paper’ sense, but as of right now we’ve printed limbs, vehicles, parts for cars, planes, guns, jewellery and almost anything you can imagine.
3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating three-dimensional solid objects from a digital design.
That’s the simplest way to explain it. An object is scanned and then created in real life by adding successive layers of a material on top of one another. It’s different from traditional manufacturing, which is subtractive and involves drilling or cutting to create an object and leaves a lot of wastage.
The types of material at your disposal include rubber, plastics, metal, paper and what seems to be an ever-growing list of others. Nike has debuted a football boot, hearing aids have been created and even dresses worn by Dita von Teese, so the possibilities are limited by your mind and access to a printer and materials.
Previously the only way to make things was to put in an order at a massive manufacturer with big machines and long, drawn-out turnaround times.
Now, with the advent of 3D printing and commercialising of the technology, almost anyone can own their own production line without needing to mass produce a product.
It’s not what large corporates have been doing with the technology for two decades that makes 3D printing so interesting right now. The fact that 3D printers have become affordable to individuals makes this space one to watch.
The possibility exists that every home will have a 3D printer as a standard accessory to make plastic spoons, toys for kids and other necessary household items within three years. All we’ll need is the design files that we’re already able to download from the Internet (Turbosquid.com).
This means that the potential is massive for individuals and small business owners to capitalise now and begin to plan for the next three to five years when the boom will really hit.
Learn your trade, figure out which printer works for you and which material you’ll want to work with. Become a master crafter and you’ll put yourself ahead of this game.
Businesses have the chance to leapfrog their competitors and build up a war chest of printers and experience. There are companies in New York that have bought hundreds of 3D printers and are starting their own production lines that are taking on stalwarts of industry.
By visiting online resources like Turbosquid, you’ll be able to choose available designs to download and make yourself. This means you don’t need to have an engineering degree or be qualified at all to produce real-world objects.
Pick something simple and undercut the market leaders with your new technology and fast turnaround times.
The big ideas exist too. If you can stomach the risk and find the funding, you might want to invest in or create a 3D printing vending machine that dispenses a predefined list of products that someone might need on the go. That might be a very futuristic sounding concept but rest assured: Someone will do it, it may as well be you.
Capitalising on the 3D movement may be as simple as disrupting existing industries. There’s a niche around every corner and perhaps this will become your ideal market: The neighbourhood and corner shop. The Greeks built empires from the back of a corner shop and maybe it’s time that you did too.
Individuals can now purchase 3D printers for well under $1 500 (R14 000). That is a relatively small outlay for a printer that could change your neighbourhood and life forever.
Once you’ve got your hands on one of these little bad boys (start your search here www.3d-printer.co.za and here www.rapid3d.co.za) you can start to find out what people need and want.
Are they in need of cheaper nails, hosepipe connectors, curtain hooks? You can simply make these and sell them to your immediate community. Become a problem solver and you could elevate the handyman to an entirely new level.
Turning your hobby into a viable business is no longer just a dream. The toy-maker, amateur jeweller or model airplane maker inside you will be giddy with excitement at the idea of owning your own 3D printer. You’ll be able to design and develop your own range of toys, jewellery or models. Jay Leno uses his 3D printer to create parts for his antique cars that no longer exist.
All you’ll need to do is design the product, put it into prototyping and see if anyone actually wants to buy it. The Internet and the 3D printer were made for each other.
You can rapidly prototype your designs, test them to see if they work and feel the market out online. If people don’t like what you’re making, move onto the next thing.
The key issue here isn’t going to be what to make, but where to sell the things you make. For this you either need a high-traffic online store or to list your product with online shops like Sculpteo.com or Shapeways.com. Using Shapeways means you’ll have to create your products using their platform.