A few years back, 3D printing felt like a thing of the “future.” But, a lot has changed in the past couple of years. Today, you can actually start and build a thriving 3D printing business. According to the popular 2019 Wohlers Report, the global spending for all 3D printed products and services is expected to hit the $15.8 billion mark in 2020 and even continue to higher levels of up to $35.6 by 2024.
This growth is greatly attributed to the improvement of the 3D printing technology, including higher quality parts, manufacturing-grade accuracy, and repeatability, and increased availability of materials. What’s more, 3D printing professionals are now using machine learning (ML) for increased process control. The result of all this has been, larger addressable markets and overall Equipment Effectiveness.
Manufacturers in different industries are now imagining various application of 3D printing. 3D technology is now used in the automotive industry, medical industry, aeronauts, architecture, and even agriculture. Indeed the possibilities are endless with this technology, and now is the time to take a leap of faith and start a 3D printing business and hope to continue growing with it.
This guide will give you a step-by-step procedure of getting into 3D business. Hopefully, by the end of it all, you’ll have learnt what it takes to start and run this business. Keep reading!
Table of Contents
Step 1: Learn About the Technology
Before you think of starting a 3D printing business, you must take the time to master the technology. After all, it’s only wise to have a thorough comprehension of the technology to which you plan to build your business.
Luckily, many online 3D printing 101 courses exist to get you started and you must ensure you at least reach the intermediate level before you finally start a 3D printing company. But, remember, learning doesn’t stop here. 3D printing keeps evolving and you’ll be forced to adopt some changes from time to time to keep your business operations fresh with up to date design software or 3D supplies.
Come Up with a Business Idea
There are so many business ideas around 3D printing. But, it is imperative to outline your business objectives before you think of coming up with a business idea. This way, you will be able to strategize your steps appropriately. You can then choose between the many 3D printing business suggestions (examples are listed later in this guide) or come up with your own unique idea. You can also decide to add a twist to an existing business plan, and make it better and unique.
Come Up with your 3D Printing Cost Estimate
This is key when setting up your business plan. And, since the 3D printing business comes with a lot of surprises, it’s important that you look for proper funding before starting, especially when you plan to experiment a lot.
There are various crowdfunding websites you can work with, or you could seek help from any financial institution concerning loans.
Your business budget will depend on how big or small you plan to start. For instance, if you plan to start from home with just one or two printers, then you can use your savings instead of looking for funding. On the other hand, if you plan to start a full-fledged manufacturing section, you’ll have to look for funding options and financers. You could also plan to start from home then expand as you move along.
Now, when it comes to the budget for your 3D printing business, there are some costs that are obvious and should be put into account. They include the cost for the printer/ printers, premises costs, marketing, and insurance (after all you are offering a product).
If you plan on setting up your business at home, you’ll have to think about how it will affect your utility bills, insurance, and consumables (including bed adhesives, material, sheets, and nozzles). Depending on what kind of printer you choose, you setup costs could range from $1,000 to $10,000. Also, you may need to start local and small.
When it comes to giving quotes to clients, your charges will depend on how much you are willing to risk, and many other factors too. Remember, 3D printers can be quite unpredictable, so it would be great to account for wasted material and failed builds in your charges.
The easiest way to work out a cost is to charge hourly and include the cost of material. You also need to consider the time you’re likely to spend on a project. For instance, a printed part may require significant support when it comes to removal or bonding, especially if it’s a large multi-part design.
3D printing also allows for value added costs where you can charge more for post-processing, like assembly, smoothing, painting, or baking.
Choose the Appropriate 3D Printing Technology
Depending on your business objectives and budget, buy the best 3D printer that will cater to all your needs. Look for the right dealer and place your order. Don’t forget to check how the customer support is and if there is any other assistance offered by the company once the printer has been sold to the customer. Buying from a company that offers after-sales-service is a huge money and time saver.
You can either go for a fully enclosed 3D printer or a semi-enclosed one depending on your preference. You can also choose to make your own affordable 3D printer using one of the best DIY 3D printer kits.
Choose the Right Software
3D models are the cornerstone of 3D printing. You require high expertise and precision to create exceptional 3D prints, and 3D modeling software will make it easy for you to refine your imagination into 3D copies before allowing the printer to print.
Luckily, there are a lot of excellent free 3D printing design software out there that you can start out with. Though, as the business grows, you may want to invest in a paid option with great 3D printing features. Read online 3D modeling software reviews to know which one best describes what you are looking for and consider things like support generation, printer models for 3D output, and the ability to correctly align models on print bed.
Here are some of the best free 3D modeling software that you can try out when getting started.
Blender: Developed by NeoGeo—a Dutch animation studio, Blender is a compelling open-source 3D content creation program that contains features of high-end 3D software. This free software is accessible from all leading operating systems under GNU (Genera Public License).
Google SketchUp: Google SketchUp is free, fun, and easy to use. This software has a few simple tools that you can use to draw faces and edges. With the Push/Pull drive you can turn any boring surface into 3D. What’s more, it works in conjunction with Google Earth, allowing you to import mounted aerial photograph right from Google Earth. You can also use SketchUp to create models that can be viewed in Google Earth.
Tinkercad: Tinkercad offers anew and swift way of making 3D designs. With just three main tools you can come up with a variety of valuable things. Once you are through with your project, just download the STL folder and begin your 3D print.
3Dtin: This is the most straightforward 3D software that allows you to draw straight from your browser.
OpenSCAD: OpenSCAD is used for making solid 3D CAD objects. This free software is available for Mac OS X, MS Windows, and Linux/UNIX. It, however, doesn’t target the artistic features of 3D modeling, but the CAD aspects instead.
How to Attract Clients to Your 3D Printing Business
Now that you have an idea of what you’ll need to start a 3D printing business, you need to know how you are going to get clients to buy your products and services to ensure your business grows and thrives.
Other than your own website, you can sign up on popular e-commerce websites such as Amazon, eBay, and many others to promote your products.
You also need to be active and stay visible by talking with people and making new friends. You need to have an established record of activity on platforms such as 3D Printing Reddit, 3D Hub Talk, Facebook groups, and other places. These are the places where your potential customers might be, so be active here and spread the word.
Posting photos and videos of your works on Instagram and YouTube can go a long way, especially if you spend some time editing them and advertising around the web. Remember, the more your business is visible, the more you will sell. But, don’t forget to put watermarks on your designs to avoid the risk of someone else using your models as their own.
3D Printing Startup Ideas
So, you have learnt about 3D printing and are now ready to start your business. Remember, not everyone has the energy or the time to earn the skills and knowledge that you have acquired.
But, many are keen on the advantages that 3D printing offers, like the lack of need for costly tooling, design freedom, ability to reiterate through designs quickly, and the low cost of production of components.
That means your 3D printing knowledge can actually earn you good money. Below are some of the ideas of earning money 3D printing. Remember, you can work with something that is already working great or get innovative with your creativity.
Offer 3D Printing on Demand
Though it’s an already competitive market, the easiest way to earn from 3D printing is to print on demand. To succeed with this model, you first need to select a niche and choose a market that you feel would be suitable to print for. Perform some great market research by Googling the niche, checking sites such as Reddit and Quora, and reading blog posts.
You can then start small by selling on marketplaces such as 3D Hubs and later expand when you have garnered enough experience and know which clients you want to attract. Print and take feedback always to learn more and improve your services.
Alternatively, you can start by directly selling your services and products to B2B customers. Generally, these kinds of customers tend to be more consistent, and place large printing orders. Once you get a few clients, you’ll be assured of return orders.
You must be ready to up your production as your clientele grows. This will also help in attracting funding groups.
Remember to take on as many customers as you can handle in the beginning as regular delays while still in experimental phase may lead to immense losses and a bad name.
Set Up a Service Center for your 3D Printing Company.
By setting up a service center, you’ll be giving your customers a place to come and make their orders, which you will design, print, and deliver.
Since this business model can be quite costly, you will likely move up faster if you concentrate on B2B clients or those wanting to get started with a brand new prototype. The B2B business template is safe and easy to operate. You only need to have the template for the prototype, which you can easily design and print.
Other than creating prototypes and selling them to companies, you can also design and print 3D products for e-commerce stores or create promotional goods for companies’ marketing strategy. The opportunities are endless here actually; you could even perform repair and maintenance services for 3D printers and prints.
Outsource 3D Design Services
This option is for those who want to cut on their production and business cost. Rather than printing 3D files, you could provide designing services to Hubs that are already offering 3D printing. Many companies lack the employees or skill set to design creative concepts into 3D printable files.
If you are good at scaling software and CAD, you can use this special knowledge to earn some great profit. And, you don’t have to worry as you won’t be the one printing these files. You will, therefore, save a lot on setting up a service center and buying a 3D printer. You only need a laptop or PC and an internet connection to get started.
Customized 3D Products
Customization is a massive industry. You can actually customize anything and this is also true for 3D printing. This niche has huge prospects; after all who doesn’t like unique stuff.
There are so many items you can 3D print and what you will settle on will depend on your target audience. For instance, if kids are your target audience, movie avatars, movie stars, singers, and figures and collectibles of athletes would be some of your best options.
Looking to attract charming youths? 3D printing customized shoes, jewelry, mobile phone cases, and other products will do the trick. Indeed, the opportunities are endless; customized baby products for end users and companies, customized gifts for e-commerce sites, and prosthetics for medical niche.
These are just a few examples of how you can succeed while 3D printing customized products. Note that the demand for customized sports items and printed t-shirts is growing rapidly. You can try out your luck in this market and add your own magic to give your business an edge over others.
Launch an e-commerce shop
One of the best ways to make money 3D printing is to set up an e-commerce site to sell your designs and prints. Before going all in with an e-commerce shop however, you could validate your concept by using crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. You can then sell your items by setting up a shop on Amazon, Shopify, Etsy, and NotOnTheHighStreet.com.
Here are some ideas for your 3D e-commerce shop:
The events industry is huge. There’s everything including birthdays, graduation parties, weddings, conferences, and company events. Take advantage of this market by 3D printing event decorations as well as other products.
Home Furnishing, Jewelry, Decorations and Fashion
The design market is the perfect one for people looking to have an e-commerce shop. You have lots of options here; decorations and fashion, home furnishing, and jewelry. And, if you intend to begin small, Etsy is an ideal platform since its clients fancy individualized design.
Monthly Subscription Box
These are insanely popular, with some of them being something of a trend, while others being a convenient way for individuals to get items delivered to them. You could use this concept to 3D print monthly products that people want and need as a recurring service. You could, for instance, deliver baby products, pet, or toys on a monthly basis.
Now is definitely a good time to launch your 3D printing business. It’s quite clear how 3D printing is giving cheaper and faster solutions to businesses and individuals, and is being used to save lives during unforeseen calamities. Today, we can 3D print edibles—a technology that was once only known for printing prototypes.
We hope that this outline helps you start and run your 3D printing business. But, the above ideas should be treated as just that-ideas. As someone who has learnt a lot about this technology, there are limitless ways to earn money with 3D printing.
Remember, you may face a lot of competition as this business model is being discovered by many people now. So, plan well and let your competition pout as you progress. Keep learning so that you can be able to solve all 3D issues as they emerge.
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