3D printing is not just for sci-fi fans anymore. In fact, it may have the potential to be a game-changer for small businesses. Here is a look at 3D printing and some of the ways it can be used in small business.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printers are generally faster, more affordable and easier to use than other additive manufacturing technologies.

For an example of how it works, check out this video. I guarantee it will have you intrigued!

Prototyping

One of the biggest sunk costs for a small business that manufacturers anything is the cost of creating a prototype. Often, prototypes are something that the creator cobbles together in a garage or basement. But the trouble with these types of prototypes is that they are often not close enough to the real thing to convince investors.

Having a true prototype built is a very costly business, especially if the item consists of complex parts. The more parts, the higher the cost. If a small business owner is able to bypass these expenses by having a prototype producer on a 3D printer, thousands of dollars can be saved.

Manufacturing

3D printing can be used for a lot more than just prototyping and, depending on the item being printed, can actually produce finished pieces. Items can be produced in plastic, glass or ceramic, so the possibilities are truly unlimited.

This type of printing does require a good design, but having a designer create a 3D virtual model ready for printing is still a lot less expensive than having a manufacturing plant produce a one-off prototype or limited products.

At Home Use

While 3D printers are still expensive items to own outright (typically several thousands of dollars), there are a few home models available that start at around $500. Their abilities are greatly limited when compared to the professional models (think printing on your home printer in black and white or going to a printer to have something offset printed), but the technology is changing and growing.

I see 3D printing continuing to grow in popularity at affordable prices. Consider how online stores like CafePress and CustomInk revolutionized how small businesses were able to produce branded items for a fraction of the cost that they had previously been.

What Else?

Think how you could use a 3D printer in your business. Think beyond the prototype, even if you’re not in the manufacturing space, what items have you always wanted to add to your inventory but never been able to find? Why not create them yourself?

Image credit (MakerBot Thing-o-Matic 3D Printer): RoboSavvy

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