There are countless small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses across the globe, and many still don’t use 3D printing.
I often wonder why this is. Sometimes it’s because the manufacturing operation truly does not require advanced manufacturing options, as their products are straightforward and easily manufactured using traditional methods.
However, I suspect that many small and medium businesses assume that’s the case without a proper investigation. “That’s for someone else!”
There are niche scenarios where 3D printing could benefit many operations. A classic example is a small foundry, where they routinely turn down work involving small numbers of units because the cost to the customer would be too high. The costs are high because of the setup cost to make the first item.
But what if this operation had a metal 3D printer that could produce even single units at a not unreasonable cost? Yes, the cost would be higher than if the product were mass produced, but it would be far less than using traditional methods for this low quantity. And that might be something clients would accept.
A company would never know what opportunities exist until they “get into” the technology. Then the minds of those with the knowledge of both 3D printing and the business can identify new approaches that could be beneficial.
That’s easy to say, but much harder to execute. There’s often a momentum to “not change” in businesses that must be overcome. I’ve come up with a few tactics that a small business might employ to break through the 3D printing barrier and get more deeply involved. Here are seven ways to start learning about 3D printing in a business.
Designate A 3D Print Leader
Every workshop has at least one person that’s adventurous and willing to learn anything. That’s the person you should designate as the point person for 3D printing. They will investigate the technology and learn as much as they can, so long as they are provided the time and opportunity to do so.
Once they have a base knowledge, they can then act as a trainer and mentor for others who can follow them into the world of 3D printing.
Use A 3D Print Service
It’s usually a bad idea to simply buy a fancy 3D printer and hope for the best. That’s because novices don’t yet understand what features are truly important on a device, and the nature of the prints and materials used on them. That comes with experience.
One way to gain some experience is to use a 3D print service instead of buying one’s own 3D printer. The 3D print service would typically offer a variety of 3D print processes, enabling the curious client to try various materials and experiment — all without the requirement of buying and maintaining a machine.
After everyone feels more comfortable with the results of the technology, then a more considered equipment selection process could be performed.
Hire A 3D Print / Additive Manufacturing Consultant
There are multiple 3D printing specialists for hire. Consider engaging one to examine the state of the business, including its 3D skills, materials, processes and other aspect of the operation. Then specific and expert recommendations can be prepared about the next steps required.
Inspect Your Design Inventory
A question that immediately comes to mind is “what parts in our inventory could benefit from 3D printing”? That’s a difficult question to answer, particularly if you don’t know much about 3D printing.
There is an answer. There are now a few services, such as 3YOURMIND, where a company’s design inventory can be inspected automatically to identify parts that could be manufactured with 3D printing processes. This could be a shortcut to getting started, or at least lay out some options on where to begin.
Work With A Contract Manufacturer
There are plenty of regional contract manufacturers who operate a variety of making processes. That’s because the client is often unsure of what is required when they walk in their door. The good news is that contract manufacturers typically have squads of analysts that can look at a part or set of parts and help identify the best ways to produce them, and one of those ways could be 3D printing.
Read About 3D Printing
An easy way to get involved is to read more about 3D printing and get familiar with the terms, companies, processes and other aspects of the space. Of course, we strongly recommend you read our publication, but there are others, and even many online training courses to learn further.
Start A Makerspace
If there’s sufficient interest, a company could establish a small, in-house makerspace that might include 3D printing technology. Staff would be allowed to make use of the makerspace to build anything, although they might be encouraged to make things relevant to the business operation. Either way, the staff would gradually learn more about the technology and how it works.
I don’t know which of these is right for your situation, but doing any of them will put you in a better position to make decisions about your 3D printing future.