There will likely always be a need for a traditional paper printer, but there’s also a growing case that 3D printers may one day become commonplace in the average small business office. Consider the way that desktop publishing became mainstreamed, allowing small business owners to create their own marketing materials. New 3D printers offer a similar advantage by producing physical objects customized with your message.
3D printing places complex manufacturing techniques and machinery right at your desktop. As the technology grows less sophisticated and less expensive, we will see more small businesses taking advantage of it. A desktop 3D printer can create objects of up to 5.5-inches-by-5.5-inches-by-5.5-inches in size, on a platform built within the device, in a variety of colors.
Specifically, a 3D printer can manufacture a three-dimensional object such as a keychain, smartphone case or some other type of promotional item. The advantage is similar to today’s equivalent of small run digital print jobs, where you can place a customized message on each product.
The biggest hitch to widespread use is that a 3D printer needs a blueprint of the object’s manufacturing specifications. The printer allows you to download a model of product blueprints, which are likely to become more available as the technology becomes more prevalent. There’s also the issue of equipping the 3D printer with the correct material to “print” a product, which is generally less accessible than standard printer paper.
However, the applications are limited only as far as one’s imagination. For example, instead of ordering 500 stadium cups or luggage tags, you can customize one at a time for each prospect or client. Imagine how much easier it would be for an architectural firm to print (instead of hand-build) 3D models of its building designs based on blueprints they’ve already drawn. Firms can replace broken machinery parts onsite rather than waiting days or weeks for a replacement.
Whether for home or business, a 3D printer can help you test-drive a new invention of your own. While great ideas abound conceptually, the ability to design a product and test its efficacy can be the difference between a dreamer and marketable new business idea. By creating 3D models of a new product, an entrepreneur can demonstrate the product to potential angel investors or venture capitalists, show it off at trade shows, and even custom print them for sale.
3D printing opens up new possibilities for producing items for small business owners, such as promotional items, new products or replacing machine parts. Prices of 3D printers continue to come down (starting at less than $1,000) and can be bought at places like Staples Office Supply and Lowe’s Home Improvement – where you also can pick up requisite printing materials. Or, purchase 3D printing services available online or onsite at some stores (such as a Staples 3D Printing Experience Center) if you want to try out the technology without investing in the actual machinery.
Just as desktop publishing brought low-cost marketing to individual firms, small businesses may soon find 3D printing an indispensable part of their office operation.