Why You Should Care About 3D Printing

Why should those of us in the printing industry be interested in 3D printing (or replicating, manufacturing, etc?) First, the process for printing in 3D almost the same as 2D. File comes in, file gets submitted to the machine, product is manufactured, product is finished, product is fulfilled. Granted, its a different kind of input (CAD vs. page layout), different kind of machine, and different finishing processes…but the same was true for digital vs. offset printing.

Regarding the markets and applications, right now the main opportunities are probably in Engineering and Product Support, which was also the case for 2D large format digital until the quality was good enough for use in marketing and other applications. Early 2D digital innovators sold digital blueprints, but also ran a lot of spec books and product support documentation for their clients. Their clients were also among the first users of digital color – willing to pay over $1 per page in the early 1990’s.

Further, you might ask how developing a relationship with Engineering / Product Support could advance your overall revenue and presence in an account? Do they have other “traditional” applications that you could support (How-to Guides, Installation Instructions, etc.) Could 3D printing help you get them? Worst case, you’ll separate yourself from competition. Also, Engineering typically woks pretty closely with marketing and other departments to make sure products are launched on time. Could this help you cross-sell?

I’d also add that 3D printing is expected to be a $5.2 billion industry by 2020. People are already building 3D web-to-print (or whatever verb you’d like to insert here) portals. They’re marketing them to B2B and B2C clients. Some have already produced thousands of projects for their online customers. At some point, people may use 3D printing like a fax service, scanning an object in one place, and printing it in another. Who better to manage distributed “printing” than printers who already have the networks, space, location, talent, etc?

While 3D printing is very young, its definitely disruptive technology. You can either adapt or resist, but I don’t think you can ignore it. Digital technology has gutted print in too many places (newspapers, magazines, books, catalogs, direct mail, etc.) already.

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