Many in the industry consider prototypes the primary or, “killer” application for 3D printing. Why? Because new products are typically designed using 3D software, they’re also “print ready,” making them low hanging fruit for anyone with a 3D printer. But because of 3D printing, more prototypes are also “production ready.” The prototype is the product! This allows people to disrupt the traditional product innovation process, making 3D printing a fast track to innovation.
Industry insider and MakerBot CEO, Bre Pettis certainly drinks the kool-aid. He says,
“Makerbot is an innovation company.” We innovate ourselves to empower other people to innovate. Our mission is to jumpstart the next industrial revolution.”
How exactly does 3D printing help people innovate? By flattening process and removing upfront cost.
The 3D print-for-pay market is set to explode. Recent advancements in 3D printing, fueled in part by investment from crowdfunding initiatives, are creating a demand for 3D printed objects. Not only are consumers purchasing 3D desktop printers for home use, they’re paying others to print on their behalf, locally at 3D print shops, and online via web-to-print (W2P) sites. An entire industry is being developed to support this demand, creating opportunities from creation to delivery. I’m so bullish on this market that I recently created a blog to cover it and promote its growth.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to partner with the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business and guest lecture a group of undergraduate students. We tasked an Internet Marketing class with developing niche websites that would sell printed products to consumers. The class broke into groups, developed their pitches and shared with the group. We voted and the group elected to move forward with a site that would allow consumers to design and order business card-sized mini resumes. We determined what platform we would sell on, how we would market the site, and how we would produce our product. All we needed was financing.
Crowdfunding has the potential to remove the financial barrier – especially for those in the 3D printing business. Crowdfunding projects can be created quickly and inexpensively, often requiring little more than a working prototype and a kick-ass video. Those economics get even better when your prototype IS your product, as is the case with items printed on demand, in 3D. Several 3D printing projects have already successfully funded on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Even though most of these are related to 3D hardware and software, they’ve paved the way by creating a lot of buzz and educating potential backers about the technology.
Which leads to a thought…maybe there’s a formula here for creating new 3D web-to-print sites?
CROWD + 3D PRINT APPS = NICHE WEBSITE IDEA FACTORY
Everybody remember the Formlabs Form 1? It’s the desktop 3D printer that raised nearly $3 million a couple of months ago on Kickstarter. Part of its allure was the quality of output it could produce, rivaling the output of printers costing $30,000 to a million or more. According to the team’s project page on Kickstarter:
“Our reason for starting this project is simple: there are no low-cost 3D printers that meet the quality standards of the professional designer. As researchers at the MIT Media Lab, we were lucky to experience the best and most expensive fabrication equipment in the world. But, we became frustrated by the fact that all the professional-quality 3D printers were ridiculously expensive (read: tens of thousands of dollars) and were so complex to use. In 2011, we decided to build a solution to this problem ourselves, and we are now ready to share it with the world.”
Now it turns out that Formlabs may have violated a patent belonging to 3D Systems, one of the companies that makes those expensive, professional-quality 3D printers. Clearly 3D Systems was not happy and yesterday announced that they’ve filed a patent infringement suit against Formlabs and Kickstarter.
In today’s market where people are launching businesses at a record pace – many more out of necessity than as a sideline – speed to market is essential. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the resources or the time to bother with traditional methods. They look for solutions that get them to the finish line faster.
Consider this example of Day2Night, a shoe retailer that allows women to change out the heel of their shoes to match the occasion. Pretty slick idea. To get the business off the ground the owner, Candice Cabe is using 3D printing to create prototypes of the heels she plans to sell. It’s an important step (pardon the pun) that could save significantly vs. committing to production before the product is tested. Also, it’s important to note that Ms. Cabe funded her company with Kickstarter, a crowdfunding web site that now requires project creator’s to demonstrate working prototypes of their product.
While 3D printing is still too expensive for mass production, Ms. Cabe has also found it useful for beta testing and getting consumers to try her product. Certainly she’ll use the feedback she gains to improve her product before going to production, and also use it in her marketing messaging. We can only assume that consumer reviews will be as valuable to her company as they are to others when attempting to convert new customers.
Do you have an innovative client that’s trying to launch a new company or a new product? Maybe they could benefit from this emerging technology. If you’d like more information on 3D printing and how you can incorporate it as a capability, CONTACT US today.