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3D Printing: Expanding Your Reach

(August 2017) posted on Wed Aug 09, 2017

Why today’s print service providers should consider breaking into the 3D printing market.

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By Tim Greene

The fastest growing technology segment, according to IDC research, is powder-bed fusion 3D printers. This is where many of the high-end metal printing systems are included and it’s where HP’s Multi Jet Fusion is categorized. Some of the original patents have expired in this segment, which is partly why we’re seeing a flurry of new products at much more aggressive price points.

Service Providers

Some of IDC’s research indicates a growing trend of manufacturers taking 3D printing in-house, which is natural as the price of the systems comes down and the simplicity of operation goes up. Still, IDC expects the revenue from commercial 3D printing services in the US to grow from $1.26 billion in 2016 to over $2.75 billion in 2021 – a rate of almost 17 percent per year.

As the market for these systems has grown, several constituencies have emerged to provide 3D printing services. Some of the key vendors, especially at the high end of the market, offer prototyping and on-demand parts manufacturing, but part of what they are doing is proving to customers that their systems are viable solutions. Another important group is the new set of online providers, companies like Sculpteo and Shapeways, that serve more or less as the Vistaprint of the 3D printing industry in that they will do one-offs or large, complex builds in any quantity or material because they have access to a lot of different technologies. Also, retailers and logistics companies, like Staples, UPS Stores, and The Home Depot, have launched 3D printing initiatives. Finally, the prototyping industry contains many companies that have adopted 3D printing but also use their CNC routing, milling, and injection molding systems for prototyping and small-batch manufacturing.

Here are some recommendations for large-format PSPs thinking about getting into 3D printing:

Get up to speed: The latest 3D printing technologies offer huge advantages over earlier generations. These improvements make 3D printing faster, more accurate, and higher in quality, and provide more colors and textures. Understanding any necessary finishing and other post-processing can be a huge differentiator.
Observe the local market: In addition to the vendors and online providers identified in this article, look at who else in your area offers 3D printing services.
Don’t sell 3D printing on a cost-plus basis: You have to sell your ability to fix some of the pain points that 3D printing adopters have experienced, such as improving cycle times and eliminating the learning curve.
Look to partner with companies in a specific industry: The field of 3D printing is so broad that trying to convince customers that you know their industry, no matter what it is, will likely leave you spinning your wheels.
Find the synergy: This sounds like consultant-speak, but it’s smart to look for ways to sell 3D printing services to your existing customers, even if they’re on the promotional side of the market and not involved in industrial-scale manufacturing of parts and pieces.
Connect: Think social, mobile, and personal. Some sites, such as 3D Hubs, offer the ability to produce 3D builds on a paid basis for any company that has a 3D printer. Use your social media presence to illustrate your capabilities and share updates on projects you’re working on. Also, go to maker events where you can discuss what customers want and need from 3D print providers. Many people who have a $300 home 3D printer will be amazed by how much better a professional service is.

Read "Lights, Camera, Action: 3D Print Hits Hollywood" or check out more from Big Picture's August 2017 "Outside the Lines" issue.