From Mind to Marketplace in 24 Hours
Imagine having an idea for a product, designing it in a modeling
program, then uploading the file to a 3D printing firm. The company
then manufactures your product and features it on their website for
the world to see. Social media gets wind of your cool new product,
word spreads like wildfire and orders come pouring in.
Now envision all this happening within a 24 hour period, with no cost to you for tooling, marketing, inventory management or any of the other major expenses associated with conventional manufacturing. No shipping or handling headaches either. Just upload your file and await payment. The 3D printing company does the rest.
That’s a startling new business model that’s emerging with the growth of the so-called Maker Movement (see sidebar on next page). While 3D printing companies typically have a turnaround time of two or three weeks, same-day service is a very real possibility once these highgrowth companies catch up with their backlog of customer orders.
The purpose of this article is to explain the Maker Movement from two perspectives:
1. Impact on BusinessWe explain the Maker Movement, who Makers are and why they are expected to become a major competitive force in the marketplace.
2. Maker CapabilitiesTo understand the Maker Movement, it helps to develop a Maker mindset. Throughout this article, we encourage readers to explore the “Maker” within themselves. The product examples provided are intended to inspire your own creative thinking.
I created the products shown in this article and I am proud to call myself a Maker. I also work for a major distributor (Fiber Instrument Sales) that has a number of manufacturing divisions. This puts me in a good position to provide a balanced perspective regarding how independent product designers (Makers) are likely to impact traditional businesses.
MAKER BUSINESS MODELI often write about emerging markets in WaveLengths Magazine, and it usually takes a lot of research to determine where business and technology might be headed. The exception was when I first became aware of the services offered by a 3D printing firm. In a flash, the future of manufacturing and distribution became clear to me. Here’s what happened.
When I designed my first 3D model I was naturally very anxious to have it printed. I didn’t own a 3D printer, so I uploaded my model file to Shapeways, a leading provider of 3D printing services. They printed my model, then invited me to offer my product for sale in their online store. I immediately saw the genius in what they were proposing.
ZERO INVENTORY COSTShapeways wouldn’t keep my physical product in their inventory. Instead, they’d keep the computer file of the 3D model on hand in a virtual inventory. Whenever someone orders my product from their online store, Shapeways simply prints the physical product on demand. With this approach, Shapeways could conceivably keep a million products in their inventory, and have it all fit on a few computer hard drives.
Business analysts have predicted that companies might someday manufacture “products on demand.” To discover that this is happening, here and now, really smacks you in the face. It’s a wakeup call that every manufacturer and distributor needs to wrap their minds around.
From my standpoint as a Maker, the Shapeways offer is a good deal. While I was intending to make a single product for my personal use, Shapeways showed ‘MOONBEAM’ GIFT COLLECTION me the potential for earning money through no extra effort of my own. My product would be seen by customers worldwide and Shapeways would handle all billing, correspondence, shipping, handling, and so forth.
ROCK STAR RICHESAccording to Rolling Stone Magazine, a top recording artist like Adele gets 12 to 20% of the sale price of a $1.29 download of one of her hit songs on iTunes. When selling through Shapeways, I can easily match Adele’s 20% profit since I don’t have to share my sales income with anyone. Shapeways only charges me their standard manufacturing fee, plus a 3.5% payment processing fee. I can charge any price I want for my product as long as it is sufficient to cover Shapeway’s manufacturing fee.
I’ve since learned that other 3D printing companies offer similar arrangements, which provide Makers with a powerful incentive to introduce thousands if not millions of new products to the marketplace. Some designers are very successful selling their products this way. I often see their creations featured in the news, social media and so forth.
going pro3D modeling and printing have become an integral part of the curriculum at colleges and universities, so expect to see sophisticated 3D printed items showing up on 3D manufacturer sites very soon.
Materials used for 3D printing continue to improve and are now being used to make durable components and parts for functional devices. Items made of plastics, ceramics and metals are now commonplace, and more materials are on the way.
Essentially, any material that can be made into a fine powder can be used for 3D printing via a process called Selective Laser Sintering.
THE NEED FOR SPEEDThe tools required for design and manufacturing are no longer expensive and are empowering independent product designers. Being independent, these folks are fast on their feet and can get a product to market at blazing speed compared to typical corporations. As a result, businesses must find ways to streamline product development or Makers will beat them to market.
3D PRINTING TAKES OFFWhat’s Fueling Growth?
Embraced by Key Industries
Proven Applications3D printed jet parts, heart valves, foods, prosthetics, consumer goods, etc.
Lucrative Potential of 3D Printing Market2013 $3.1 Billion vs. 2020 $21 Billion (projected) Low Cost of 3D Printers
1996 $50,000 vs. 2014 $499
TYPES OF 3D PRINTERS3D printing is a process in which a machine builds or “prints” a physical, three-dimensional object. Typically, the process involves adding successive layers of material, which build the object from the bottom up. The layering process may be repeated hundreds of times until the object is completed.
The manner in which the construction material is applied varies by the type of 3D printer. Among the most common methods are:
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) - Construction material (typically plastic) is molten and deposited through nozzles.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) - Construction material (e.g. powdered plastic or metal) consists of a fine powder that is spread in layers over the build platform. After each layer of powder is applied a laser beam fuses that portion of the layer that corresponds to the shape (cross section) of the object.
ADVICE FOR BUSINESSESIt should be clear from the diagrams on page 10 that companies must find ways to get new products to market more quickly if they are to compete with Makers. Three approaches come to mind:
Approach #1Shorten product development time by adopting the Maker Model A business could try to develop a “Maker Mindset” as part of its corporate culture, encouraging independent thinking and adopting “Maker tools” such as 3D printing in an attempt to speed products to market.
Companies might also streamline product development by being more selective regarding who is involved in collaboration and decision making. Makers also collaborate (with other Makers), but they are not obligated to adhere to the decisions of others during a long product development path. For makers, it’s more like “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Also, Makers typically don’t spend time doing extensive market testing before introducing a product to the public. Sometimes they’ll even sell a beta version of their product, and let consumers themselves suggest product improvements. One benefit of this strategy is that the product is perceived as being based more on consumer needs and less on corporate profits.
Corporations, on the other hand, often use consumer focus groups to solicit product suggestions. 3D printing can provide a quick way to get products in front of these focus groups for evaluation.
Approach #2Fight intellectual property infringement Makers like to improve upon the products of other companies, and they often create accessory items for well known brands. Businesses may be tempted to nip this in the bud as more Makers engage in such activities.
However, accessories, even when produced by others, can increase the utility and perceived value of a company’s core product.
Patent and trademark issues are complex and will become even more so as millions of Maker products enter the marketplace.
Approach #3Enter into Maker Partnerships (recommended) If you can’t beat em, join ‘em. Businesses can invite independent designers to create accessories for their core products. Apple did it with their iPhone. Instead of trying to fight hackers and independent applications developers, they invited them to develop apps for the iPhone.
The huge number of apps that these independents created greatly increased the utility and perceived value of the iPhone. In my view, forming business partnerships with independents, instead of fighting them, seems like the way to go.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING MAKERSAffordable, easy to master technology, particularly 3D printing, is empowering millions of people from hobbyists to engineers. Once you get bitten by the Maker bug, you may decide to offer your 3D printed products for sale. Here are some things you should know.
If your product is wildly successful, the 3D printing company may not be able to keep up with demand. With current technology, they might be able to produce 100 or so units for you per day but that’s probably about it.
If you need to crank out higher volumes you’ll have to switch production from 3D printing to traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding. That can require an investment of $3,000 or more to have a steel mold created but once that’s done you are good to go. An injection molding company can produce hundreds or thousands of your products per day at a much lower per-unit cost than you can with 3D printing. From my experience, injection molding companies support aspiring entrepreneurs, but if you show up at their doorstep with a model that’s impossible to manufacture they may not be able to help you.
For example, injection molding may not work for you if your model has very deep recesses, undercuts, draftless walls or other physical details that would prevent the clean separation of each half of the mold. Learn what you can about conventional manufacturing methods, and try to keep these considerations in mind when designing your initial 3D model.
SUMMARYManufacturing is no longer the exclusive domain of corporations, nor is 3D printing just for prototypes anymore. Independent designers (Makers) are now producing quality end-user products and getting these items to market at blazing speed.
For the implications in this article to really sink in, everyone is encouraged to try 3D design and printing for themselves. The process has become easy and affordable and can give tangible expression to your own creative ideas. So design something and send it out for printing. Open the box when it returns and behold your creation. That great idea that once existed only in your mind is now in your hands. You are now a Maker, and I promise you will remember that moment forever.
Agree or Disagree?
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