Starting a business from home today is more accessible than ever. Our digital landscape helps to ensure that entrepreneurs have access to resources, consumers, and industry peers from across the globe. Among the technologies that are helping to make running a small company more simple and practical is 3D printing.
We already know that it has a place in large-scale industrial manufacturing, and has even spawned smaller print-on-demand markets. However, 3D printing has the potential to make running a business from home more efficient — even among enterprises that are not specifically focused on the method as a primary means of manufacturing. The relatively low-cost, reliable process supports more than production itself; it can support the infrastructure and even the direction of a business.
As more of us are looking at how tech can make our home businesses smarter and more practical, we’re going to examine a few key areas of focus for 3D printing. How can it make enterprises not just more successful, but also more sustainable? What applications should we be looking into, and what tools can help us in our endeavors?
One of the benefits that 3D printing provides any home business is the ability to be agile in the marketplace. Our business, cultural, and social landscapes shift frequently, and often without much warning. The ability to produce new product ranges as and when they are needed can give entrepreneurs that vital competitive edge.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an excellent example of this. It’s true that all businesses with 3D printers have had to take precautions. This includes the implementation of cleaning routines at every stage of the production process — wiping print beds, cleaning nozzles, and swabbing products post-processing. However, it has also proven to be an opportunity. Businesses with 3D printers have been able to adapt quickly to offer specialty products such as face mask extenders to prevent chafing around the ears, safety goggles, and face shields. Many have donated these items to essential workers, helping to raise their standing in the community.
In effect, 3D printing allows home businesses to respond to trends. There is no minimum amount of product that needs to be printed, meaning that the risks of loss are relatively low. There are strides being made toward connecting consumers directly with 3D print manufacturers through eCommerce platforms, and this is likely to be the direction of the future. For home businesses, creating easily editable online stores through services such as Shopify and Bigcommerce, allows them to make swift adjustments as the market demands.
One of the core aspects of 3D printing is that it is a gateway to creativity. Before the rise of additive manufacturing, any home business that operated in production had to take into account the costs of outsourcing for prototyping, and the potential for additional expenditure for making even minor changes. It’s not difficult to see how this can put shackles on self-starters with low budgets.
While we’re not yet at the point of all manufacturing materials being available to desktop 3D printers, the range is growing. An increasing number of machines are already being developed to handle multiple materials at once. This means that entrepreneurs can produce mock-ups of items made from ABS or PLA plastics, epoxy resins, steel, wax, and polycarbonates quickly and cheaply in their own homes. The ability to quickly and simply adjust, without awaiting shipping or production leads, takes a significant amount of time and expense out of testing early models of their products.
In the past, one of the primary areas of expense for home businesses that needed to outsource manufacturing was tooling. Now, 3D printing allows small enterprises not only to produce prototypes of products, but also to cheaply create the custom molds, jigs, and fixtures that are required to produce items that can’t be 3D printed at large capacity. There are even companies 3D printing their own injection molds. In all, it not only reduces the costs and the design cycle time, but it also allows the freedom to make improvements to tools throughout the development process.
Sustainability has become increasingly important in our culture. Whether your business is in a factory or out of your garage, consumers consider it a priority to support companies that demonstrate care for the environment. As detailed in the resource, 76% of American consumers expect companies to take action against climate change. Thankfully, 3D printing is well placed to improve the footprint of many industrial activities.
This begins with resource consumption. Most types of 3D printing filament are reusable to some degree, and there are filament recycling machines already on the market. These break apart used materials, melt them down, and extrude the new material ready to be cooled, coiled, and used again. This means that home businesses can produce less waste from their activities, which is particularly important for the non-biodegradable plastics that are common in production.
There are also methods that can help home business owners to reduce energy use while 3D printing. It’s already quite an efficient process, using up to 74% less energy than large-scale manufacturing. However, where possible it’s important to try and source computer equipment that is designed to be energy efficient — such as Energy Star certified products. It’s equally important to use your setup in an energy-efficient way. While you can’t print while your computer is in hibernation mode, you can keep the screen brightness dimmed as low as possible.
3D printing offers great opportunities for home businesses. It allows entrepreneurs to be agile in their activities, encourages creativity through easy prototyping and tooling, and supports a commitment to sustainability. As 3D printing continues its development, these benefits for small business owners are only likely to expand.