Tag Archive | web-to-print

How 3D Printing Could Save an Industry

Yesterday I read a piece from Marc Lefton in AG Beat, entitled “How to Take Advantage of Print Media While They Still Exist.” I was struck by a number of thoughts. First, I thought how inflamatory the title would have been even a couple of years ago. Second, as I read into it, found myself questioning Mr. Lefton’s assertion that businesses can get a better rate of return by advertising in local newspapers than online – been there tried that, and didn’t like the result.

The biggest chord struck for me in the article though, was his explanation of the “Newspaper Business Plan.” It imagines someone pitching the concept and current process of publishing and distributing a newspaper to venture capital.

“Our plan is to take yesterday’s news, quickly create a beautiful “layout” with computer software and designers working day and night, then print millions of copies overnight in a huge printing plant using millions of dollars in equipment. We’ll then send these “newspapers” to distribution points all around the city. From there, we will utilize an army thirteen-year-old boys on bicycles who will distribute the newspapers door to door in their neighborhood after school in exchange for gratuities from our customers so they can go buy Topps baseball cards, Silly String, and Now-N-Laters. And we’ll support the whole thing with advertising. We think printing last week’s help wanted ads and apartment listings will be a surefire revenue driver!”

Don’t to forget yesterday’s sports box scores and winning lottery numbers, right?

Then I started thinking, how would this script look in another scenario? Maybe statement billing?

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Where Will Makers Go For 3D Printing?

Atom 3D Printed Guitar

There’s a lot of debate right now about where we’ll all be printing in 3D. One one hand, you have those who believe we’ll 3D print from home. On the other you have those who predict we’ll order prints from websites or a local 3D print shop.

Now we’re asking you…do you think we’ll all have 3D printers or will we pay someone else to print our 3D objects?

A Future So Bright You’ll Need 3D Printed Shades

ProtosThe 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

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3D Device Prints In and On Paper

3D Printed Paper

We recently shared our take on why 2D is like 3D printingWhile we conceded that the devices themselves are different, we made the argument that the process of printing in two or three dimensions is essentially the same:

File is created >> File is sent to print device >>

File is printed >> Item is finished (bindery/decoration)

We also made the point that like 2D printing, the 3D printing market will eventually service customers at home (via desktop printers), online (via web-to-print) and at retail (via 3D print shops.) The retail channel has yet to be developed and we think this represents a huge opportunity for traditional printers, print franchises, big box office supply stores, and shipping companies like FedEx and UPS.

One of the objections raised by some in these markets is that the substrates and consumables used in 3D are too dissimilar from those used in traditional printing.

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Why 2D is Like 3D Printing – a Counter-Rant

[ALSO APPEARING ON TECHCRUNCH]

I recently read an article on TechCrunch by Jon Evans entitled, “3D Printers Are Not Like 2D Printers.” While I would agree with the title (obviously the two devices don’t serve the same purpose), I don’t agree with argument Jon makes for why 3D printing is not like 2D printing.

His primary argument is that 3D printers make “stuff,” while 2D printers disseminate information. I’d counter that argument by pointing out that packaging, boxes and other forms of dimensional print not only provide information, but serve as containers – stuff that holds other stuff. Jon’s point is that “our relationship to stuff is thoroughly, extremely, fundamentally different from our relationship to information.” I would agree noting that with some amusement that kids sometimes play with the box more than the toy because they perceive the box as more interesting stuff.

More importantly to me however is the implied assertion that 3d printed “stuff” doesn’t or can’t disseminate information. Consider for example, the 3D printed, customizable Android figurines currently for sale on Cubify.com. Other than to promote the brand, what purpose do they serve, and with the obvious exception of an extra dimension, how are they really any different than a poster or wall graphic of a customized Android figure?

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Powering the Next Industrial Revolution

Funny story. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to chat via LinkedIn with a man in the UK who was entertaining the idea of opening a 3D print shop. Last week I posted his story and shared it on Twitter. He was going to the 3D Printing Show and I mentioned it in my post. A little later I received a tweet that said, “We’ll be there too, but we have an actual print shop you can visit.”  Clearly people I had to meet.

This week I had an opportunity to meet on Skype with Christiane Fimpel and Philipp Binkert, the co-founders of 3D-Model.ch. 3D-Model.ch is located in Zurich, Switzerland and is something of a one-stop shop for all things 3D. While I didn’t get to visit in person, I did get to talk shop with two innovative entrepreneurs who are powering the next industrial revolution.

More than just a 3D print shop, 3D-Model.ch has four pillars in its business strategy. The company does provide 3D printing and other services including design, file management, laser cutting, and finishing, but also an authorized reseller for 3D Systems and Bits From Bytes, two formidable names in 3D printing equipment. Beyond products, the other two pillars in 3D-Model.ch’s strategy are services, including education for consumers, and consulting services for business clients.

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3D Printing Replacement Parts

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.

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