Finding New Commercial Uses for 3-D printers
Friday, December 21, 2012
Posted by: TechServe Alliance
As the prices for 3-D printers and supplies begin to moderate and become affordable personal consumer items, being able to exploit their abilities for commercial gain remains a challenge. And those challenges extend far beyond the actual market for selling and servicing those printers. This trend has the potential to parallel the upheaval in the media and publishing sectors when the ability to deliver content electronically supplanted physical books, magazines, and newspapers.
In addition, a 3-D printer enhances and lowers the cost considerably for producing prototypes for a variety of products. But 3-D printing involves more than just hitting the "send to printer" button. Some analysts expect the need for IT and engineering pros to grow as these devices become mainstream and more prevalent.
One company may already be distancing itself from its competitors by offering the "code" for consumers to produce their own replacement and accessory parts. Teenage Engineering, based in Stockholm, Sweden, is a maker of a sound synthesizer that has reached a cult-like international following. According to Wired, instead of sending little "plastic parts around the world," the company is telling its customers to print their own. It has made the files available free of charge for anyone to print the parts.
Don't have a 3-D printer? A third party 3-D printing service will print and ship them for a price. One such company is Shapeways, which Wired describes as a "digital object repository."
The possibilities for this potentially new mode of manufacturing could be endless. Companies will no longer need to "mass produce, hold inventory or distribute their products; they only need to design and release," a Shapeways's executive told Wired.
Although hobbyists' 3-D printers can cost about the same as a high-end laser-jet printer, commercial units can cost upwards to low six-figures. As 3-D printing moves beyond a tool for hobbyists and the elite few who could have afforded them in the past, it may be up to corporations to incorporate 3-D printers' abilities in their own product design and marketing efforts.
Manufacturers may promote the idea that customers can make their own replacement parts. Manufacturers won't have to stock decade's worth of replacement parts or try and rebuild a relationship with upset customers when they learn 'that part is no longer available.'
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