Plastic Print Pavilion Re-Raises Questions about Business Models for 3D Print

By | October 14, 2014

In case you didn’t notice, a lot of traditional press vendors were touting their new 3D press offerings or soon-to-be offerings at the Plastic Print Pavilion at Graph Expo. So it seems like a good time to revisit the business models currently in use in the commercial printing industry.

These aren’t simply ideas presented by press vendors trying to get you to buy one of these devices. These are the actual business models used by printers having made the investment in one of these printers. I compiled these models while writing “State of 3D Printing in the Commercial Printing Industry,” which as far as I know, is the only report of its type looking at this technology exclusively from a commercial printing perspective.

Here are the current business models I see being used for 3D printing in the commercial printing industry:

  • Research and development (get your feet wet and learn the technology and what it can do). This is the most common model at this point.
  • Reframing the perception of your company in the eyes of customers. This is the second most common model.
  • Providing products to the consumer and hobbyist market. In other words, going into head-to-head competition with existing 3D print providers.
  • Targeting the traditional 3D printing marketplace (prototypes and models). Also going head-to-head with existing 3D print providers, perhaps trying to increase “share of wallet” from existing 2D print customers who might be outsourcing 3D printing to another provider.
  • Creating internal cost efficiencies within your own company (one printer used its 3D printer to print replacements parts for its platesetter and saved $10,000).
  • Being an output-only provider (assuming a printable 3D file). For those who have purchased 3D printers and are justifying the investment based on other factors (such as producing parts in-house or market R&D), there is no reason not to promote your ability to provide output if the customer provides a printable file.
  • White labeling
  • Incentives and promotional items used to drive responses to direct mail campaigns.

To me, the latter is the most interesting because the value of 3D printing isn’t in selling the 3D printed product itself. It’s using these products to drive sales of what printers really want to be doing anyway — more print.

In fact, I’ve pointed out in previous Digital Nirvana posts that in order to use 3D printing this way, you don’t even have to be producing the 3D output. You could be outsourcing it. In other words, using 3D-printed dolls personalized to the recipient as a box-opener/incentive for a dimensional mail campaign to C-level executives. You outsource the production of the dolls, then print the dimensional mail, handle the mailing, and do the follow-up email campaign, as well. It’s not the 3D printing you want. It’s just a tool (whether produced by you or someone else) to get the rest of the multichannel marketing work.

How have you seen printers using 3D printing? Any business models I’ve missed?

More info on “State of 3D Printing in the Commercial Printing Industry“.)

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One thought on “Plastic Print Pavilion Re-Raises Questions about Business Models for 3D Print

  1. Aaron Hale

    Heidi, you are spot on when it comes to the recommendation for printers to get in game being an intermediary and leveraging the outsourced product as an on ramp for new business. The same still holds true for printers who may still not have begun to offer cross-media services to their customers. My 3D printing market research has revealed that the investment that a typical commercial printer would have to make in terms of high-end devices (starting at around $330k +) and the cost of labor for an operator with a very advanced skill set (CAD and basically an engineer) would be prohibitive for most. Although this is certainly a rapidly emerging market over the next 10 years, the current sweet spot for providers is for in-plant printers servicing specific vertical industries (education, manufacturing, science and technology) where the internal applications are plentiful enough to feed the beast and justify the investment. There is of course the consumer market with vendors such as Shapeways.com

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