3D Printed Replacement Parts
Back in the 1990’s when print on demand was just taking off, some of the first killer applications to develop were product support documents including instruction manuals, user guides, and registration cards. Short run quantities, lots of variation, frequent updates, and the synergies with “just in time” manufacturing made them a perfect fit for digital printing. Eventually, the Internet killed the opportunity. Now, very little print is included with products. Today, manufacturers simply refer customers to a website where they can watch an instructional video, read the manual, and register online. Just another example of print’s obsolescence in favor of digital technology.
If you’re looking for a way back into the manufacturing and product support departments, one way might be to offer 3D printing. Of course you’re probably thinking that there is no way 3D printing can be competitive with traditional methods of manufacturing products, right? While that may be true (for the near-term anyway) 3D printing can and is being used to produce replacement parts. Need an example? Check out this article from Wired Magazine about Teenage Engineering, a manufacturer of music synthesizers. The company is making the 3D files of its parts available on Shapeways, a web-to-print 3D printing service. Customers can download the files for free and print them on home devices, or order them, on demand through Shapeways.
We recently created a poll on the Digital Printing Group on LinkedIn. We asked if any of the digital printers there were considering a move into 3D printing. So far, 66 people have responded. 39% have said “yes, it’s the wave of the future,” 43% have said “maybe, but it’s not ready yet,” and 16% answered with “what the heck is 3D printing?” While the poll is a relatively small sample, we think it’s clear that printers are becoming aware of the technology. It’s our goal to educate and make the case for getting involved now. Printers have the facilities, talent, and processes to support 3D printing. If they don’t embrace it, they’ll continue to watch their 2D business erode and struggle to catch up to innovative, disruptive competitors like Shapeways.
If you’d like more information on 3D printing and how traditional printing companies can incorporate it as a capability, CONTACT US today.