If you are into 3D printing and want to start a career in this field, the very first thing you need to realize and understand is that it is a manufacturing technology. No matter what sector you will operate in – it can even be modern design, art, advertising or the film and gaming toys and gadgets – in 3D printing business it always comes down to manufacturing.
And when we talk manufacturing, we have to go by specified set of rules and limitations:
- everything is always technical, and for most of our future clients – difficult and hard to understand
- clients don’t care how it is made – is it 3D printed or milled or assembled from several parts – clients want the job to be done quick and exactly how they envision it
- we are limited either by technology or material properties
- we are limited by quality of our 3D printer – the product is either cheap and not good looking, or good looking but costs a fortune.
Clients doesn’t know any of that – so no matter what kind of specialty you choose, you always need to be some sort of technical adviser and teacher. Why it is even important? Because sooner or later client’s lack of knowledge will bring you in trouble in form of complaints. You will 3D print the perfect part, but the client will be disappointed with the end result because he imagined it differently? It is your task to make him aware of the possible flaws – and if they will occure, that it is not your fault, but this is what 3D pritning offers at it best.
The second important thing is, regardless of your specialization or what kind of 3D printers you have, you should always be open to other possibilities and options. If all you posses is a single, cheap FFF 3D printer, you should establish cooperation with another, larger service provider and from time to time subcontract it with larger and more demanding orders. Remember that at the very beginning of your 3D printing business, each client is as much important and you have to fight for each order. If you are not sure if you will manage to complete specific order yourself, it is better to subcontract it and earn less, than risk failure and losing the client forever. Not to mention loss of your reputation… After all it all comes down to who talks to the client and who issues the final invoice for the job.
The third thing is you always need to learn and try to be ahead of others. Although it sounds obvious – it is of special importancein the 3D printing business. You can never let go of further development and keep doing the same thing over and over again. Even if you are really good at something – the best in your region or country, always look for places where you can implement something new. Let me give you two examples – the first from the area of industrial, the second from the desktop 3D printing.
One of the most popular additive manufacturing methods is SLS – selective laser sintering of powdered plastics. It was developed in late 1980’s, and since middle 1990’s it is one of the major 3D technologies. Many companies based their business on it – with Materialise among others. Meanwhile, in 2014, HP presented its own proprietary additive technique – MultiJet Fusion. It is very similar to SLS – it uses the same powdered material, however instead laser sintering it, it sprays agent on the powder and thermally binds it together (we will take a closer look at it in further lessons).
Both technologies differ in numerous nuances – some geometries run better on one than the other, sometimes one is more effective, the other is cheaper, etc. However, as a rule they are very similar. In my experience, for many clients it does not matter whether we use SLS or MJF – the differences are appreciated only in really extreme cases. But here’s a thing – HP runs a very effective marketing campaign proving its superiority over the competition. So in the end, some customers want the parts to be made in MJF technology because they have been convinced by HP advertising. It’s possible that HP technology is better for them, but it’s also possible that it doesn’t matter – the parts will come out identically on both technologies – SLS and MJF. So what a company with SLS machines should do? Like it or not, it has to buy also a HP machine to meet the expectations of its customers.
Another case is desktop 3D printing from resins. For several years, the only efficient option in running 3D printing business in that area was buying 3D printer from Formlabs (The Form 1, The Form 2 or The Form 3). The 3D printers uses stereolitography method – selective photopolymerisation of resin with laser beam. The company’s 3D printers combined a sufficiently high quality of prints with still acceptable price of the machine and materials for small and medium-sized business. However, recently cheaper and much easier to use 3D printers have started to appear on the market. The light source for photopolymerization is not a laser beam, but an LCD screen that cures resin for the entire layer at once. The speed is higher, but the quality is a weaker (I will talk about it in later lessons).
The price for typical UV LCD machine is more than ten times lower than for Formlabs. Resins are several times cheaper. Additional consumables such as resin containers for cheap 3D printers theoretically last forever – all you need is to replace the film at its bottom. In Formlabs you have to replace whole container every time you change the resin for different kind. At the other hand, Formlabs has amazing resins, that have great and powerful properties – with cheap 3D printers you will never achieve that. And the Formlabs software is wonderful – cheap 3D printers often use free, open-source one, that is nothing comparing to PreForm.
So what should a company running 3D printing business with several Formlabs 3D printers do, when its competition using far cheaper 3D printers and materials, literally kills the market with prices that make 3D printing on Formlabs at a loss? I know of a few cases where dental companies using The Form 2 or The Form 3 decided to purchase several cheap Chinese UV LCD 3D printers because parts production costs were incomparably lower. They did it knowing that they were lowering the quality. They found it acceptable…
So you always need to look ahead and react to the market. Or you will find yourself left behind…