Here, we look at the benefit of the still-developing technology for SMEs.
Earlier this week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first ever 3D-printed drug. Aside from being an astronomic breakthrough for the pharmaceutical industry, this news comes amid a flurry of similar stories; each demonstrating the growing potential and endless possibilities of 3D printing.
Upon its invention, 3D printing was limited in terms of its usability. Aside from architects building advanced 3D mock-ups, fashion designers producing radical new garment designs, and tech enthusiasts creating toys and other novelty bric-a-brac, the full potential of 3D printing took several months to materialise.
Now however, 3D printing has become a tech juggernaut, with hundreds of enterprises developing new, innovative ways to exploit the technology. As applications multiply and prices fall, more and more businesses are implementing 3D printing technology in a bid to rethink their operational strategy and reap market share ahead of their competitors.
Given the far-reaching implications of 3D printer tech however, the question must be asked: to what extent will 3D printing impact small businesses?
One of the primary implications of 3D printer tech for small businesses is the ability to manufacturer goods locally or even onsite. The benefits of this are far-reaching, as enterprises have in the past been solely reliant on outsourcing manufacturing to large, centralised plants; many of which are located overseas.
With the ability to manufacturer goods locally, small businesses will effectively reduce their operating costs, simplify manufacturing and lessen their environmental impact by reducing their carbon footprint, which is good news for the eco-conscious.
One of the most attractive implications posed by 3D printing technology however, is the cost. Yes, high-end 3D printers still incur high initial purchase costs, but prices are dropping by the day. Should a small business invest in a 3D printer, or seek a 3D printing manufacturer in their local area, the reduced production and shipping cost will offset the purchase price of the printer itself, potentially saving enterprises hundreds in excess operating costs.
While contemporary manufacturing has become more rapid in recent years, 3D printing technology offers a new level of efficient, cost-effective product development. Implement 3D printing technology, and small businesses will effectively eliminate the need for an assembly and manufacturing process, reducing any previous turnaround period and removing the need for stringent supply chain management.
This Harvard Business Review article examines the implications of how 3D printers can streamline the supply, manufacturing and retail process, highlighting the ways in which businesses can scale and manage operations to meet both economic and efficiency targets.
The impact of 3D printing on small businesses isn’t restricted to monetary gains, however. Due to the heightened design flexibility offered by 3D printers, businesses have the potential to produce an endless array of dynamic, visually appealing products that are beyond anything thus far released by modern manufacturers. How? Printer specialists, Toner Giant, explain the process used in 3D printing:
‘Put simply, 3D printers use an additive manufacturing method to create a three-dimensional object out of a digital file. The object is created when successive layers of a special additive are laid on top of each other. This process offers complete flexibility in terms of customisation, and will allow companies to create really exciting products – no matter what their industry.’
Whilst 3D printing is by no means an obligatory business tool yet, in the not-so-distant future the impact of 3D printers will undoubtedly be felt in all sectors, summoning a new era in the way small, medium and large companies go about their business.