If the discussions and evidence from recent years are any indication, 3-D printing will be nothing less than revolutionary for global business in the years ahead. Market research shows that 3-D printing is heading towards mainstream adoption. And we’ve also seen strong evidence to suggest that this technology will be especially transformative for small businesses. The accessibility of quick, easy, and cost-effective ways to prototype and sell products on the fly means that small businesses will be among the biggest beneficiaries of the 3-D printing revolution. So the natural question then is what steps can be taken to ensure that your small business is 3-D printing savvy and prepared for the transformations that this technology will bring to the marketplace?
How to Build Your 3-D Printing Strategy Today?
One writer well sums up the game changing nature of 3-D printing as follows: “The big trend is that people and businesses are becoming empowered by new technologies for funding, design, modeling, manufacturing, and shipping goods on demand.” In order to compete within the new industrial revolution of 3D printing small businesses need to update, change, and modify their existing business models. Here are a number of strategic guidelines that thoughtful business leaders can adopt today in order to keep up with this rapidly changing ecosystem.
- Develop a Roadmap for 3-D Printing Adoption: If your business outsources its product development overseas, develop a clear business strategy for how to adopt in-house manufacturing within the next 3 years. Invest in an industrial strength 3-D printer and start using it for a percentage of your product manufacturing. The cost savings in shipping and outsourcing will soon follow. As your cost savings and revenue increase, scale up and eventually invest in more printers until manufacturing is done completely in-house.
- Offer 3-D Printing as a Service: Even if manufacturing is not a part of your current service platform, seriously consider how to fold this into your business model as a new service for customers. Get your team together and brainstorm about how to invest in an industrial grade 3-D printer and setup a small business within the business to provide online and onsite 3-D printing on demand services. Test the new opportunity first with your employees and then pivot and expand from there.
- Invest in the Supply Chain: 3-D printing may well become one of the most disruptive technologies of the modern era. As your own 3-D printing strategy grows at the local level, look for ways to become involved in other areas of the supply chain. Some suggestions are:
- Become a supplier of filaments and composite materials for 3-D printers.
- Provide an online service for hosting and transferring 3-D printed files (STL) to printing companies.
- Offer shipping services for those that need overnight and expedited 3-D printed products.
- Provide online 3-D printing educational forums and local classes as means to promote your products and services.
- Rapid Prototyping as a Service: The capability of doing in-house prototyping is revolutionary in and of itself – both from a cost and time savings standpoint. Spin this capability into a new service offering within your existing business vertical. There’s a growing demand for those that can supply mockup and prototypes to other small businesses and startups in as little time as possible.
If anything has become clear throughout this discussion, 3-D printing is a disruptive technology that has huge implications for manufacturing and for the global economy. As 3-D printing continues to become more accessible and cost effective, smaller brick and mortar shops will rely less on the need to outsource their product development overseas and will be able to transfer those cost savings to investments in new services within the 3-D printing supply chain . In the preceding discussion we’ve outlined some strategies that small businesses should adopt right away in order to leverage the exciting new opportunities that are ahead in this fast moving market.
The last installment of this series will review what we’ve learned so far about 3-D printing and recap the main takeaways of what small businesses must do now to adapt to the momentous changes ahead.