3D printing is an exciting and emerging technology. From cars to dental implants to human organs, from customized works of art to functional prototypes and tools, the list of what can be 3D printed is constantly growing. However, when entering this market, much more is involved than simply purchasing a machine for your office and waiting for sales to come in. So how does a traditional print or graphics firm utilize 3D to help drive business, generate revenue and sell new services to existing customers? We asked Steve Cory, President of Objex Unlimited 3D Printing Studio in Toronto. This Canadian firm is at the forefront of 3D, partnering with clients in developing and commercializing technologies, products and processes. From concept to end result, Objex Unlimited is all about offering complete 3D service solutions. “It’s as simple as exploring opportunities within your current customer base, and offering a whole new collection of value-added services. At this point, your clients may not know that 3D print services are even available to them,” said Cory. “You need to show them how they can use these tools to their advantage. Promotional products, custom installs, concept models – this is an opportunity to introduce your customers to new possibilities and offer them a total-solution package.”
What is 3D Printing? 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology where a physical object is created from a design file. The software takes your design and slices it into many thin layers. The 3D Printer then takes those slices and builds the object by placing down successive layers of material. When it comes to custom, one-off designs, 3D printers are faster, more affordable and easier to use than other technologies. It should be noted, however, that traditional manufacturing and mass production methods are still much better suited to creating multiple copies of the same design.
Misconceptions and the 3D process. The most common misconception is that the 3D Printer itself is an all-in-one solution – that you simply push the ‘start’ button and anything you imagine will pop out in a short time. 3D prints, for example, are made from a properly constructed digital design or CAD file. The design is key; without it, there is no print. Also, people traditionally overestimate the speed of 3D printers. The printing process itself isn’t necessarily quick, with most print jobs ranging anywhere from 4 hours to 40+ hours to complete. The speed associated with the technology comes from the ability to make a design and print a prototype, without relying on traditional methods such as CNC, molding or casting that can take weeks or even months to complete. You also pay more per unit for 3D Printing compared to traditional manufacturing. However, if you need to make edits or changes to your design, there’s no retooling or remodeling – your only cost is design time and material. In the final analysis, 3D Printing is not about mass production – it’s about rapid customization.
Choosing a 3D printing partner. Today’s successful companies are providing much more than just hardware. Your partner should be able to offer you a complete service solution. This includes 3D design, 3D scanning, 3D equipment sales, 3D equipment service, a diverse fleet of printers with multiple material options – and most importantly, the capability and expertise to back it up. For example, there’s no use partnering with a firm that only specializes in automotive parts when you need to print full-colour concept models. You also need – and should expect – ongoing personal and professional service training, plus consulting and workflow management. Your partner should tell you how to capitalize financially on 3D printing by providing sales and marketing support – including lead generation, referral programs and strategies for engaging your customers.
Generating revenue – give your customers what they want. You already have a client base that is constantly creating new content, creating one-off designs, and working to build the integrity of their brands. They’re looking for the next big thing to give them that competitive edge. All you need to do is bridge that gap.