It all started with a random call.
You probably don’t know this, but this publication receives many, many calls and emails from companies seeking 3D print services. Of course, we’re a news service and don’t offer such services directly.
Usually the requesters are puzzled, but then when we explain that we write news stories they understand and move along.
However, today I happened to field a call from someone working at a hearing aid manufacturer. The fellow asked whether we could 3D print some test objects in silicone.
Of course, we cannot, and I told him so. But then I thought, “hold on, let’s find out how and why he got here!”
I asked how they ended up calling us out of curiosity, and found an interesting answer.
It turns out the caller simply Googled “silicone 3D printing” and ended up seeing one of our stories. This particular story was about ACEO’s materials, and is one of the 11,000 stories we’ve published over the years.
The caller somehow thought that because we wrote about the technology, we would also provide it. I set him straight and provided a brief explanation of the state of silicone 3D printing as I understand it, talking about ACEO and also German RepRap’s LAM process.
I also suggested he look at regional 3D print or manufacturing services, which may happen to offer silicone 3D printing as one of their offerings.
It was a pleasant conversation, but it led me to think a bit more about the state of affairs in small to medium manufacturing.
How, exactly, do these companies find a partner to provide the required 3D printing services?
This fellow decided to search on the technology itself, as if he were intending on buying the equipment. However, based on the discussion, it appeared to me that his firm was quite new to the technology, and likely didn’t understand the challenges facing first-time industrial 3D printers.
In my mind, the best place for this type of company would be with an experienced 3D print service that could provide a number of capabilities likely beyond their own capacity, including:
- Evaluation of the 3D model for 3D printing
- Selection of the most appropriate technology
- Selection of the most appropriate materials
- Operation of the 3D printer
- Post processing of prints
All of these require skills that a new 3D print requester would have to have, but they likely don’t have them.
Usually the best approach for new users is to leverage the capabilities of a 3D print service until they are sufficiently familiar with the technology to take on their own operations.
But did the caller know which manufacturing services offered silicone 3D printing? I’m pretty certain they did not, and would have to undertake a comprehensive search to find a party able to do the job. I suggested he call the manufacturers to learn which services might offer the technology.
The conclusion I gather from the conversation is simply this: there are many small manufacturers looking to get into 3D printing, and have not only a poor understanding of the technology, but also no idea of where to look for help.
This is clearly a both a barrier to entry into the technology and an opportunity for those providing 3D print services. In spite of the marketing efforts of these services, there are still plenty of companies that have no idea what to do.