3D Printing for the Home
This Changes Consumer Products Forever
Remember the Jetsons? They could see one another when they spoke on the phone, their televisions were the size of the wall, and they produced the things they needed with little machines in the house. It all seemed so far-fetched back in the 1960s, and yet here we are, experiencing all those predictions today.
Of all those developments, perhaps the most fantastical was the idea of a machine that could grow a needed item - a candle, candle holder, cup, utensil, planter, toy, socks - on demand. Yet today's consumer can own a 3D Printer for less than $600. The materials available to print include ABS plastic, PLA, nylon, glass filled polyamide, epoxy resins, silver, titanium, steel, wax, photopolymers, and polycarbonates. Other metals and synthetic fabrics are not far behind. Small manufacturers and production shops are still trying to wrap their heads around whether or not to invest in CAD/CAM production processes and consumers are bypassing them while they dither.
At the same time, 3D modeling software has become both more intuitive to use and less expensive. You may get a headache when you sit down and look at a screen of AutoCAD, Solidscape or Rhino, but your average teenager can jump online, log into Audesk (free version available for students, hobbyists, and startups), and make something. And if they don't have a 3D Printer at home (yet)? They can log into Sculpteo, Kraftwurx, or Cubify and print from the cloud.
Ample research already tells us that consumers are increasingly interested in customized, individualized products, and the print-it-yourself option is just an extension of this trend. Whether 3D print-at-home becomes ubiquitous or takes a much smaller role in the homes of hobbyists, its impact on small business owners selling consumer product is clear.
You are no longer competing solely with other businesses. You are now potentially competing with your own consumers.
Of course, this doesn't mean the end of your small business. For reasons of cost alone, most consumer goods will continue to be mass produced. But it does mean you must find ways to become more meaningful and relevant to your target customers. The reasons someone would choose to print their own products at home include motivations such as feeding their creative side, the desire to own very unique items, or the opportunity to produce small runs of self-designed items for web-based businesses. What you must consider is all the reasons someone would not want 3D printed products, and make sure you appeal to those sensibilities.