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B2B Marketers Guide to 3D Printing

Date posted: August 6, 2013

With the profusion of praise and anticipation attending three-dimensional printing, a recent post on business2community.com gives us all a chance to get a grip on things. Notes tech blogger Robert Rabe:

“Additive manufacturing”, the not-so-sexy name for 3D Printing, is hyped to be the biggest paradigm shift in manufacturing since the steam engine over 100 years ago. If the evangelists are right, it will redefine just-in-time manufacturing as it will make real factories, warehouses and inventories a thing of the past… However, people have a pretty wrong perception of this miraculous technology. Many expect it to print ready-made lamps and maybe even computers. This is of course far from realistic.

Rabe points to a list of issues with the technology recently published by Gizmodo, calling out the top three:

  1. You can only print one material at once, or material with very similar melting temperatures.
  2. One of the praised aspects of 3D printing is making mass customization affordable. However most single-material products rely on economies of scale— an effect additive
    manufacturing doesn’t benefit from.
  3. The objects are printed layer-by-layer, and you can often tell by looking at the result.

Nonetheless, as the post notes, there are opportunities the technology presents, particularly for simple, personalized objects. An excellent example— 10,000,000 printed hearing aids are used worldwide, showing the power of 3D printing for products in need of customization.

A key will be the
usability of CAD software, as 3D printers use CAD files as their information source. As Rabe notes, “Today, CAD-software faces serious usability issues and is a pretty tough nut to crack left to professionals. But so were making movies or photo editing 20 years ago, and today they are mass phenomenon thanks to liberalizing software. The same is likely to happen to manufacturing.”

When that will happen is the question. Chances are, we believe, that this will take a little longer than the buzz about the technology might indicate. There’s no doubt 3D printing is coming, but it’s down the road a bit, not just around the corner.