Is your commercial printing business ready for the 3D Printing revolution?

Matt Belo.
Matt Belo.

Here, Matt Belo, Brand Manager and Prosumer Solutions specialist at Objex Unlimited 3D Printing Studio in Toronto, presents key questions you’ll need to answer if you’re going to incorporate 3D Printing into your current product and service mix – as well as suggestions to move forward. Regardless of what kind of printer you are – small quick-print shop, digital or offset printer, packaging printer, mailing & fulfillment house, print finishing specialist – you might want to check out what he has to say.

So is your commercial printing business ready for the 3D Printing revolution? Well, with a good partner, the answer is definitely “yes!” Of course, for many print and graphics firms, 3D can be an intimidating field to enter. Once you discover what lies beyond the plastic and consumer-level “toy-maker” printers, there’s a world of sophisticated machines that can print functional end-user parts, full-colour 3D models and everything in between!

The ProJet 3500 HDMax 3D Printer is part of the ProJet 3500 Series, one of the most flexible and more affordable 3D Printers on the market.
The ProJet 3500 HDMax 3D Printer is part of the ProJet 3500 Series, one of the most flexible and more affordable 3D Printers on the market today.

The capital investment

First, decide if you’re 3D printing in-house or partnering with an existing 3D Print Service Bureau for production. If you decide to go in-house, make sure you understand your capital investment and estimated cash flow from print production. Depending on the type of technology, size, materials and other factors, a professional-level 3D Printer can range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But don’t panic! A good entry-level “pro-sumer” device is $3,000 to $5,000 – but you’ll likely be limited in print size, speed and capabilities. If all of this seems daunting to you, partner with a 3D Print Service Bureau that can provide production and design services until you decide your own particular business and customer needs based on projected business coming in. They can help you test a few different technologies, then set up and train you and your staff on equipment and software that’s the best fit for your business and clients. Best of all, there’s little to no cost to start offering these services to your customers right away.

Outsourcing: A smart way to start

There are already full-service 3D Print Service Bureaus out there that have their equipment running each and every day and know the machines inside and out. They can tackle tricky scan and design issues, address print problems and make sure you’re receiving the best print quality possible. Look for a full-service bureau that can also handle design, scanning and other important services. It’s likely your customers will need help building their files or capturing the geometry of already existing objects – and having access to high-end scanners and design services is essential to building a successful 3D Print file.

Choosing a 3D Print partner for the full-service solution

First, make sure to visit their facility and observe how many different printers and technologies they have. If they only have one or two types of printers or scanners, they’re likely to recommend whatever technology they specialize in without much thought – even if it isn’t your best option. Second, ask a lot of questions. Make sure they’re willing to invest in the newest technologies and give you quick access to them. Finally, see if they’re using their printers frequently. It’s easy to keep a display model around. But if they can’t keep their own printers running constantly, be suspicious. It takes a lot of 3D prints to learn about the printing equipment inside and out – so there’s a huge benefit with leveraging your partner’s experience.

While there’s an assortment of 3D Printer resellers out there that might sell you a big, expensive “box” then leave you on your own, a good 3D Print Service Bureau that wants your repeat business will offer several different machine options, while educating you on the process. Only when you’re ready, they’ll set up and train you and your staff on a printer you’ll be 100% confident to purchase and operate, while being there to provide ongoing tech support. They should also give you production and finishing tips that will separate you from your competition.

You decide – but don’t get left behind

3D Printing is already generating additional revenue for commercial printers and other graphic arts facilities. Once you see for yourself how the technology can add additional profits and win over new customers, then you can decide whether or not you’d like to start moving your 3D print production totally in-house.

 

 

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.