The 3D printing industry has been generating a lot of attention lately, and it’s with good reason. While the concept has actually existed for three decades, over the past few years 3D printer technology and equipment has gotten much more accurate, faster, and cheaper. This has generated a 3D printing market for both small business and even home use, and this market is expanding rapidly. In fact, sales of printers, materials, and services will reach about $3.8 billion this year, compared to $2.5 billion last year, and is expected to top $16 billion by the year 2018.
For small business owners and entrepreneurs in particular, 3D printing technology represents a quick, cost effective way to get their hands on product prototypes and even conduct small scale manufacturing and processing. Artists are able to create and quickly replicate unique items and designs for sale. Toy makers routinely use 3D printing to make small figurines or action figures. Jewelry designers use 3D printing to create original works such as rings, bracelets, and pendants in a range of materials including precious metals. 3D printers have even been used to create human prosthetics, cars, and bikes.
While the possibilities may seem endless, one of the biggest drawbacks to this technology is the cost of the equipment. Even though prices have been coming down, most serious 3D printers on the market still cost several hundred to several thousands of dollars.
If a 3D printer is out of your budget, you can still leverage this technology in your small business. Here are three possible options:
Online 3D Printing Services. Over the past couple of years a number of online companies have cropped up that allow users to create digital designs and have them printed and then shipped to them or directly to their customers. Some platforms even allow users to set up their own online storefront to both showcase and sell their designs. Currently, the most popular online 3D printing services include:
Local 3D Hubs. 3D Hubs is an online network and community that connects consumers and small businesses with local 3D printers and their services. 3D Hubs now has an international presence and allows those in need to 3D printing to track down a local 3D printer for jobs both big and small. The advantage of turning to a local printer is that it tends to be cheaper especially if the quantity needed is very small. Items can also be picked up that day.
Professional 3D Printing Shops. The fact that so many small businesses and entrepreneurs are embracing 3D printing technology has not been lost on some of the biggest brands catering to consumers and the small business community. Case in point, UPS, Staples, and Radio Shack have all made recent forays into 3D printing services.
So the bottom line is, even if you don’t have the money to invest in a 3D printer, there are plenty of ways you can still take advantage of this technology to help drive your business forward.