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How 3D Printing Will Generate Business for Production Manufacturers

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Over at Innovation Investment Journal, Peter Friedman has an excellent article identifying the large scale manufacturing shortcomings of additive 3D printing.  In short, he says that 3D printing can’t handle the speed or volume requirements needed in production scale manufacturing.

However, that conclusion misses the point for small and medium manufacturers.  The importance of 3D additive printers is not that they will replace large scale manufacturing (after all, they can’t take advantage of economies of scale).  Their role is to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to more deeply explore commercial viability.

Inexpensive 3d printing will enable hobbyists and amateurs to cheaply prototype their concepts at a scale that they can sell.  This scale (1-500+ units) isn’t well served by existing manufacturers, who have large minimum order requirements and/or high start up costs.

The next generation of innovative products will be created by designers who can prototype and build manufacturable goods in prototype and small quantities.

 

The blue area on the graph indicates where 3D printing provides significant value

The blue area on the graph indicates where 3D printing provides significant value

The blue area on the graph indicates where 3D printing provides significant value

New products will emerge from a cottage industry of innovation.  Once economic viability is demonstrated, these projects will need to transition to professional manufacturing, to take advantage of economies of scale.  Manufacturers who specialize in transitioning a product from additive 3d printing (10-500 units) to large scale manufacturing (1k+ units) will have partners in large growth phases.

 

Takeaway points:

  1. Role of 3d printers is to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to more deeply explore the commercial viability of their market and product.
  2. Inexpensive 3d printing will enable hobbyists and amateurs to cheaply prototype their concepts at a scale that they can sell
  3. The next generation of innovative products will be created by designers who can prototype and build manufacturable goods in prototype and small quantities.
  4. Manufacturers who specialize in transitioning a product from additive 3d printing (10-500 units) to large scale manufacturing (1k+ units) will have partners in large growth phases.

 * (I defined “proof of concept” at 1 unit, non-manufactured, non-sellable.  Sellable prototype is one that could be build in quantities of 10-1000.  Production scale is over 1,000 units.  Costs are estimated, although the actual numbers are less important than the shape of the graph.)

Efficient 3D CAD Manipulation and Improved Ergonomics

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Spaceball 5000

When I worked as a design and manufacturing engineer, I did a lot of 3D design work in SolidWorks, AutoCAD, and various other packages.  It didn’t take me long to look for an alternative to the traditional mouse to manipulate my designs in the digital 3D environment.  After a little searching, I found the 3D Connexion line of products, and purchased a SpaceBall 5000 (replaced by the SpaceExplorer). Here’s why you should get one immediately.

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