From ice cream to human liver tissue, 3D printers have been tentatively introduced to the manufacturing processes of a wide range of different products. Whilst larger companies have been utilising the capabilities of 3D printers for a number of years, the increased affordability of the units are making it possible for smaller businesses to incorporate them into their production methods.
Currently hailed as the key for the biggest revolution in high volume production since Henry Ford’s assembly line technique of mass production; 3D printers could completely change the business landscape. Production, storage and employment practices may all have to be radically altered in small businesses for them to fully and comprehensively utilise 3D printing technologies.
Whether the production processes of a business is kept in-house or outsourced, a 3D printer could revolutionise the start-to-finish build of products. A 3D printer could improve the efficiency of a business’ production process, cut costs and invariably improve productivity. Whilst units used by large businesses are on a large scale and can be incredibly expensive, there is a trend growing for smaller and more cost-effective 3D printers to be built.
Printerland are currently stocking seven smaller 3D printers, making it plausible for smaller businesses to invest in the technology.
Unlike their 2D paper printing contemporaries; current 3D printers are not operating with simple ‘push n print’ functionality. There is significant technical skill required to render high quality 3D prints. This could necessitate the employment of 3D printing specialists or at the least re-training of current employees.
Altering the production process could significantly change the structure of a small business, making some employees redundant and necessitating the hiring of new specialists. This is something which will need to be considered in depth before implementation of a 3D printer in a small business.
The quick and efficient production of goods with the aid of 3D printers can reduce the amount of storage space required – potentially leading to substantial savings on any rent and utilities. Rather than stocking up on all products, e-commerce businesses may be able to produce goods on demand. Additionally, this can lead to less wasted stock.
This may make it viable for e-commerce suppliers to stock a wider range of goods and give customers great customisation options, allowing for a more personable service.
Small businesses may be able to remotely produce their stock in the homes of their customers. Technology research group Gartner believes that within 5 and 10 years, 3D printers will become more prominent in the homes of personal users. Businesses may be able to sell their designs rather than the physical products, allowing home users to print products off at home. This can reduce resources, labour and costs on the part of the business – allowing them to offer their goods at a more competitive rate.
Businesses will look into creating software which will allow automatic 3D prints of a finite number of their products – protecting them against customers making multiple prints and selling them on.
Images courtesy Creative Tools and Keith Kissel (Flickr)