How 3D printing is influencing B2B firms

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The possibilities are seemingly endless, as small and large businesses’ usage of 3D printing has now spiked, for an array of uses.

“If you’re building a high-end B2B product that fits inside of a 12″ cube, 3D printing is almost 100 per cent the best method for prototyping and developing this product,” explains Dave Evans of Fictiv in San Francisco, a hardware development platform for engineers and designers.

Some examples of its latest use are BotFactory in New York, which receives schematics of circuit boards from inventors, prints them and then ships them, reports Fast Company. Japanese inventor Yagi Kazuhiko invented a 3D printed hydropower generator and uses water to turn a dynamo that creates a charge.

Fictiv works directly with many B2B businesses – including consumer electronics, automotive, med techs – to help them bring commercially viable products to market within a day.  It’s that speed and low cost that make 3D printing such a compelling choice.

“Time to market and managing your burn-rate is always top of mind for any C-exec. 3D printing helps you iterate faster on your physical product, and decreases the time to market,” he adds.

He says that the effect for B2B executives will be seeing “small, leaner costs in an enterprise setting, SMB and startups. It’s enabling people to have leaner teams to develop hardware that previously you needed a larger team to do.”

There’s little hesitation in adoption, he adds. “It’s about companies figuring out how it fits into their prototype and manufacturing process. So understanding how companies can leverage 3D printing, is where we get questions; how can they use it to speed up development time.”

In one of many examples of the technology’s growth, in 2013, Dutch-based 3D Hubs had nine printers in their network; two years later they have more than 23,000 – what is touted as the largest online network of 3D printers, giving a billion people access within six kilometers of wherever they are, according to one report.

The market for additive manufacturing, consisting of all AM products and services worldwide, grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.2% to $4.1 billion in 2014.

It’s just the beginning

Joseph Chiu, co-founder and chief builder at Pasadena-based ToyBuilder Labs, sells 3D printers and related accessories and supplies and he expects the technology to rapidly grow year by year.

Smaller versions of 3D printers cost as much as a laptop, he says, “empowering people to create an object on their own…still best suited for prototyping and short-run production where tooling costs for mass production is cost prohibitive.”

Cost is not hurting adoption when you take the total fees into consideration, he adds.

“There may be a sticker shock when a customer first orders a small plastic item to be 3D printed, because he’s thinking about the raw material cost, instead of the service and labor involved in making that part.”

For the manufacturer, however, machines can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million and over. Typically, hobbyist machines are in the $500 to $3,000 range, according to Evans.

Marius Kalytis has been working in the field of 3D design, graphics and animation since 1994. Previously he was the founder and CEO of a 3D visualization and animation company Visual Mind.

“The patents expired and hence, the technology has been liberated in 2009, sparking the so-called 3D printing revolution,” he notes.

Kalytis founded CGTrader in 2010 to challenge the current industry model and provide advice for 3D designers.

“There are numerous advantages to 3D printing, but the ones that really have the wow effect on people are high customization, as it allows personalization of products according to individual needs, ability to produce very complex, intricate shapes that would not be possible to produce in any other way, and low cost manufacturing method for short runs, such as prototyping and producing products on demand.”

Currently, he adds, only high-end industrial 3D printers are capable of producing consumer grade quality products.

The process of 3D printing itself, moreover, is “quite slow and requires a lot of professional attention” which also adds to the high cost.

“Technology advancement and the fact that large companies like HP are entering the market with new generation 3D printers, we can expect dramatic price drop in the coming three to five years.”

Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons

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