If you’ve followed tech news in the last few years, you’ve probably heard about 3D printers. Purportedly, these cutting edge machines can produce custom-made items to a designer’s exact specifications within hours. Think of them as the Mark I versions of Star Trek’s famous replicators. However, although exciting, should small business owners consider purchasing a 3D printer to further their entrepreneurial ambitions? It depends on what business you’re in.
Artists and boutique retailers
3D printers have a variety of small business applications, but at their current level of sophistication, they can only be utilized by a limited range of businesses. Entrepreneurs who sell custom-made jewelry or art pieces should look into buying a consumer-grade 3D printer, which sell for between $599 to $4999. With a printer, you can craft objects made of stainless steel, wax or plastic, among other materials, in a limitless number of different ways. Makers of high-end boutique items might also find them useful. According to this CNN Money article, audio company Mr. Speaker turned to a 3D printer to make the intricate parts needed for their $600 Alpha Dog headphones.
Let’s say you’ve created a new kind of spoon that’s ideal for feeding infants who are eating solid food for the first time. You have a design you like, but you want to make a few tweaks. You could explain the changes you want made to a manufacturer, pay them to produce the new model and receive a new prototype whenever it’s completed and mailed out. With a 3D printer, you can whip up a selection of prototypes over the course of a day at a minimal cost. 3D printers can also be useful for inventors who want to perfect their designs before sending them off to the patent office.
Independent 3D printers
On the other end of the spectrum, you may be interested in starting your own business, and you have a flare for graphic design and a few thousand dollars in seed money. You could buy a 3D printer and go into business as a maker of personalized items and hard to find equipment. You could market your services to people interested in buying made-to-order gifts like custom-built toys and games or oblong critical parts, like a pipe fitting that’s essential to the function of a plumbing system or a very small part of a very expensive set of blinds. Serving a diverse array of customers would increase your ability to maintain a consistent revenue stream. A recent innovation in the production of the filament used to 3D print intricate designs also allows users to create complex objects without the use of exotic and expensive chemicals.
This article was written by Mario McKellop of Examiner.com for CBS Small Business Pulse.