The evolution of 3D printing illustrates how technology can help businesses build relationships at scale while treating customers as individuals, with customized interactions and tailored services.
Could 3D printers become as ubiquitous as their paper counterparts?
Like many other early-phase technologies, some of the predictions appear far-fetched. For the near-term, at least, 3D printers will likely remain a powerful force in the hands of dedicated hobbyists, but potentially frustrating for non-expert users.
We’re monitoring development of this technology to assess its potential to fundamentally change how the manufacturing sector will operate.
3D printing is not a new concept. Thirty years ago, a new platform called rapid prototyping let manufacturers develop a physical estimate of what a component or a complete product could look like, and how it might behave.
Fast-forward to 2013. Hardware and software advancements have modernized rapid prototyping, allowing 3D printing companies to enter the market.
Now, 3D printers have become inexpensive enough to be used by enthusiasts and small businesses to create physical objects.
Simultaneously, two support networks—online 3D printing services and open-source 3D communities—have emerged to make it possible to easily and affordably create items in a variety of materials, ranging from low-quality plastics to metals and ceramics.
Three scenarios illustrate the opportunities for manufacturers:
Mass customization—Imagine a world where, for a small premium, customers could set these parameters to whatever they need or want.
On-demand production—Today, specialty suppliers maintain a small inventory of obsolete or low-demand parts. Instead, imagine a parts catalog that’s entirely virtual, made up of 3D files that can be printed on demand. Customers would have access to a much wider assortment and suppliers would save on production and storage costs.
The very long “tail”—With 3D printing, it will be economical to produce low-volume, long-tail products with mass customization. In other words, you can make the long tail longer and reduce distribution costs in the process.
Any company with a supply chain or a storefront should keep close tabs on this burgeoning technology.
Why? Because there are significant business opportunities.
Consider how 3D printing could facilitate mass customization, unlock new revenue streams through on-demand production and extend support for products or parts bought in low volumes.
The true opportunity of 3D printing is the ability for companies to produce a wide range of objects on demand, with little or no inventory costs.
In short, 3D printing looks like an exciting business prospect for many industries, including automotive, electronics, industrial products and consumer goods manufacturers. Retailers and other organizations that depend on a supply chain also stand to benefit.