Three Models for 3D Printer Use

By | February 12, 2014

I’ve been researching the use of 3D printers for an upcoming article in Printing Impressions, and I’ve done a number of interviews with printers with 3D machines and read a number of case studies, as well. It seems to me that, in our industry, there are three basic business reasons / business models for investing in this technology. Tell me what you think.

1. Get your feet wet. With such a low barrier to entry for hobbyist machines, the barrier to entry is very low. Printers are purchasing these machines simply to try them out and to learn. They figure that once they start playing and experimenting, the wheels will start spinning and the ideas will come.

2. Change the perception of your company. Most of these companies seem to be putting their 3D printers in the lobby. They attract attention and become conversation starters. Just having a 3D printer running and building live projects in a public setting changes customers’ impression of the company. If they’ve seen your printing shop as fuddy duddy in the past, they now see it as cutting edge.

3. Attack the traditional 3D market. Whether with in-house design skills or working with a third-party designer, there is the option of going after the traditional 3D market. A number of UPS Stores, for example, now offer 3D printing, and by virtue of the name alone, they are getting traditional 3D design business (hobbyists, engineering prototypes, manufacturing prototypes) from companies that trust the brand name and want to spread their business around.

4. Be an output-only provider. If the customer comes in with a printable file, just print it! Not much to it — so these printers say — if you aren’t involved in designing the file.

Any models I’ve missed?

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3 thoughts on “Three Models for 3D Printer Use

  1. Tod Cordill


    You say 3 business reasaons but I count 4!

    As a former mechanical design engineer, I couldn’t imagine that the UPS Store name recognition would be any reason for me to trust them with my engineering prototypes. I might trust them to ship a prototype to a client, but not make it.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    That UPS Store was interviewed by Forbes back in August, and since then, it’s been swamped by consumer and professional prototyping. Here’s the link to the article:

    I interviewed Burke Jones, owner of the UPS Store, a few days ago. That machine stays very busy. The bread and butter is professional work that is outsourced when the engineers’ own machines are full. I haven’t talked to any of the other stores, but it sounds like they are really cranking. Jones attributes it largely to the trust engendered by the UPS Store brand.

  3. Joanna Harvey

    Similar to #3–business diversification. As printers expand business offerings to their clients, 3D printing is yet another service which can help them to be a total solutions provider.
    However, I believe that the best reason to invest is #1. Until the speed and materials limitations are resolved, business will have a difficult time making money in this technology. However, those who are experimenting now and figuring out how to optimize the technology will be much better positioned in the future.

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