How 3D Printing Is Creating New Business Models

Last Updated: March 26, 2021 By

3D printing has been changing the way companies do business for years now. It has helped shorten design cycles, streamline manufacturing processes, and simplify supply chains. These advantages have not only enabled companies to reduce costs, but also allowed them to implement better, more innovative business strategies. Below are some examples of what happens when you adopt 3D printing into your business.

On-demand manufacturing

Traditional manufacturing requires a business to strike that balance between supply and demand. A company will need to predict how much demand there will be for their product at a certain time and place. Anticipating the demand means planning ahead of time which costs money. The company will need to start production way ahead of the demand. They will also need to store that inventory while waiting to meet that uncertain demand. Moreover, traditional manufacturing is costly unless you manufacture in large batches. But what if your predictions are wrong? What if your anticipated demand never comes or isn’t as much as you’d hoped it would be?

With 3D printing, you don’t need to predict what the demand will be. You can produce products on-demand. You manufacture only what you need when customers ask for them. There’s no need to plan ahead. There’s no additional cost for storing goods either.

That’s not all. Additive manufacturing doesn’t require tooling. It allows you to produce parts quickly which means shorter delivery time. With your lead time considerably shortened, costs are lowered. Moreover, you can produce small batches or large batches of goods. As an added bonus, customer satisfaction is higher as well.

Rapid Prototyping

3D printing can revolutionize your prototyping process, allowing you to create products that fit your market quickly. This technology enables you to produce a prototype of a design in days, if not hours, and send it out for testing. With traditional factoring, creating prototypes can take weeks or months. Product testing and feedback will also take quite a bit of time. Then, there are iterations to refine your product. All of these steps cost money and take a long time. Typically, releasing a new product can take anywhere from a year or longer.

Additive manufacturing allows you to significantly shorten your design and development phases. You can test your product quickly, evaluate for design flaws. Multiple iterations are possible while operational costs remain low. You can even test for market fit without investing a large amount of money. 3D printing allows you to manufacture small batches for testing at a reduced cost.

Mass Customization

The market is continuously demanding better, more personalized experiences. This means that parts and products need to be built to cater to the whims or needs of a specific customer. Customizing products can be quite expensive. There’s a reason why bespoke is considered a luxury. Plus, mass customization is just not possible with some traditional manufacturing techniques. For example, with injection molding, it would be difficult, not to mention expensive, if the manufacturer were to create new molds for each customer.

Fortunately, we now have custom 3D printing. Additive manufacturing allows companies to perform mass customization of their products without taking elaborate steps or incurring high costs. All the companies need to do is to modify the 3D model’s design file. Wiiv is a good example of this innovative business model. It provides customers with custom-fit 3D-printed insoles.

Manufacturing as a Service

Software as a service or SaaS is nothing new to us. But MaaS? Is there such a thing? Yes, there is. This service-based business model for manufacturers was made possible by 3D printing.

What is MaaS? This model is based on the idea of shared resources which include infrastructure, equipment, and manufacturing capacity (e.g. workload, materials, workforce availability). The purpose of this model is to ensure more efficient production.

For example, a customer orders a part. That order will be routed by the network to the facility or facilities that can fulfill the order best. This is determined by the resources we mentioned above.

What does this mean? Individual product manufacturing companies can put the burden of producing products on Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). They don’t need to maintain factories, machinery, and skilled labor. They can outsource the production to OEMs which significantly reduces operational costs. Because of this, they can focus more on designing and developing products for customers. Moreover, they are no longer limited by their production capabilities which gives them more freedom and flexibility when designing new products.

OEMs, on the other hand, can focus optimizing their production processes and machines. Moreover, they can utilize the full potential of their industrial 3D printers and gain back more than their initial investment in the software, equipment, and materials. It’s a win-win for both sides.

Supply Chain Consolidation

We’ve already mentioned that 3D printing can simplify a business’ supply chain. This is because the technology allows companies to produce end-use parts onsite. They don’t need to wait for these parts to be manufactured elsewhere, costing them time and money (which includes loss of profit).

3D printing technology also enables companies to produce complex designs. With traditional manufacturing, complex geometries typically involve fabricating several components separately before assembling them into one unit. That could mean procuring multiple components from one or more companies. Additive manufacturing allows you to build the part as a single unit which means fewer components to be procured. This, in turn, lowers the complexity of your supply chain which decreases the likelihood of it getting disrupted. You won’t have to worry if your supplier can no longer produce a part you need. You can either have the part manufactured by a 3D printing business or have it printed in-house.

Design Innovations

As we all know, traditional manufacturing has its limitations. The same cannot be said for 3D printing. Just look at how this technology is transforming the medical industry. Who would have thought that personalized medications were possible, let alone a “polypill” that allows you to drink one pill containing all your meds? Additive manufacturing has allowed companies to be more innovative and daring in their ideas and designs. They are enabling small businesses to enter markets that have high barriers to entry. With 3D printing, the only limit is your imagination.

Direct-to-consumer

Traditional manufacturing of products requires scale to be cost-effective. You need to produce large batches to make the expense worthwhile. This is because you need to take into account a variety of expenses such as engineering, tooling, materials, testing, and logistics which can cause you to shell out tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For designers and startups, getting that much capital together can be difficult.

Additive manufacturing allows them to forgo all of that. Getting a product to market is much easier because it takes less time and costs a lot less. Individual designers and small businesses can choose to print their products on their own or use an online 3D printing service which costs considerably less and can ship their product to their customer directly.

Final Thoughts

3D printing is not just a tool that can simplify your manufacturing processes and reduce operational costs. It enables businesses to evolve and adapt new business strategies that help them stay competitive in an ever-changing market. It allows collaboration between a company and its customers while boosting customer satisfaction. More importantly, it promotes innovation and flexibility. As this technology continues to grow and evolve, we can only guess what other changes it can bring to the way we all do business.