I have read about 3D printing for a few years now. I consider an interesting research project with a lot of future potential. For this blog I focus on tech and information that is not only relevant today but mainstream and usable now. I’m going to break from that for the moment because I believe this may be of interest to some small businesses.
Small Lot Manufacturing
Gizmodo has another post on 3D printing and they talk about a manufacturing revolution. Let’s speculate a moment on what this means to small business. In today’s world there is no competing with large companies that can crank out product in huge quantities. It’s what we count on economically to drive costs down and spread to as many people as possible. But in the world of 3D printing it means that small stocks are now possible at low costs. From what I see there is a huge advantage for small business. They are on the front lines dealing with customers one at a time. Each customer has their unique need and profile.
Small Biz Creativity
Here’s an example; I had a carpenter over and he found some wood rot on a semi-circle window. Once the rot had progressed to a certain length the curve comes into play in a noticeable way. The only thing to do is replace the entire window costing around $200-$400. But looking at the standard rectangular window wood rot is not a problem because he purchased a straight length of trim and spliced it in, painted it and all is new. Now what if a 3D printer could have taken a picture and some measurements to create a replica of this curved window section. Print that, splice it in, paint it and we are good as new and anything less than around $300 makes it cost-effective. I think this is the tip of the iceberg. Once the cost drops small business creativity will grasp it and use it in ways that will amaze us all. This will spur growth and improve all our lives.
The World Is Trending to Small Runs
The discussions in manufacturing is about the fast and nimble solution provider. Shrinking development and manufacturing time frames have been a priority for decades. I have a brother-in-law that manages a textile firm(granted not a 3D printing candidate as far as we can see now) but the initiatives span industries. These initiatives aim to reduce what was a year or longer cycle from development to delivery down to something that is in months or weeks. The pressure is relentless and as he communicated to me the run sizes keep getting smaller.
Books are printed on site delivered electronically. No longer do you estimate, print in heavy equipment shops then physically distribute to bookshops via many heavy and long-distance routes. Now delivery is electronic and printing is local.
This is the kind of disruptive behavior that 3D printing will bring with it and the small business is ideally positioned to take advantage of this. Large companies excel at large runs and are poor at being flexible. I’m rooting for the little guy and in a year or two when I read the stories of the first small business taking advantage of these I will celebrate. For you just keep your ear to the ground and move when it seems right. I predict it will likely start with 3rd party printers where a small business person brings his photo for auto-cad rendering then printing. This will be like the old print shops ala Kinko’s for print jobs. The small business investment will be the camera and software systems that can deliver the CAD rendering.
How about you, have you yet seen a small business using this in real world situations?