How You Can Profit from 3D Printing
Brian Palacios is a recognized 3D Printing thought leader and innovator who has advised Fortune 500 firms and startups on building 3D Printing strategies. He is the Founder and CEO of Fabricastl, a 3D printing community that offers its members workshops, advisory services, and networking opportunities for 3D printing enthusiasts and experts. Brian has an MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and a BS in Engineering from Tufts University.
When I first discovered 3D printing several years ago, I instantly knew it was magical. My mind was blown by the technology: an almost infinite amount of shapes can be “grown,” layer by layer, just by using a printer. This is going to be disruptive, I knew. It would empower entrepreneurs, freeing them from the constraints of traditional manufacturing. So I set off to explore the technology and the industry building up around it.
The journey was an emotional roller coaster of exuberant heights matched by lows of disillusionment. I would get excited to learn that General Electric was making a new part for a jet engine never before possible without 3D printing. But then I would think about how that could apply to my life—what did I know about making and selling jet engines?—and that magical promise of freedom would feel so distant and inaccessible. Then the excitement would return upon reading articles about people using 3D printers to make prosthetic limbs that are far more affordable.
The possibilities seemed endless, and also overwhelming. Where should I start? What tools would I need to learn? How would I gain access to a printer without paying thousands of dollars? I pushed forward. I taught myself the tools. I bought a 3D printer. I even started teaching classes. Because of the growing hype I suddenly found myself being asked to give lectures to audiences of hundreds of people. Then, the consulting projects started rolling in. And even while all that was happening, I still had a feeling of disillusionment nagging at me.
I would feel the excitement around how 3D printing can fuel someone's creativity and break down barriers to becoming an entrepreneur. But the next day I would teach a class about it and see my students struggle in the same way that I had, frustrated and overwhelmed by not knowing how to turn the technology into a business. On bad days, my obsession with 3D printing could feel like a glorified hobby involving loudly colored plastic.
After so many ups and downs, I finally refined my thinking and distilled my understanding of the possibilities of the technology down to some real actionable paths. I found that you can make money and become your own boss thanks to 3D printing. I am now about to save you at least a year's worth of time and all the ups and downs of that emotional roller coaster that I and others have gone through. Here are three tried and tested ways that you can make money with 3D printing.
Create and sell designs. This is the most affordable and easiest way to get started. It’s essentially like creating a smartphone app and selling it for royalties.
* Start by learning from free CAD tools like Trimble Sketchup or TinkerCAD. Most beginners are surprised by how easily they can whip up a complex looking design after a few tutorials. Sophisticated and professional quality designs can be made with these tools. Make sure to leverage the available online tutorials and communities for help.
Invent a design.
* Leverage the power of 3D printing by creating complex shapes easily, customize designs cheaply, or create moving parts which require no assembly.
Need inspiration? Spend time perusing the 40,000+ designs on thingiverse.com to marvel at the creativity and possibilities shared by others.
* Once your design is complete in CAD, make sure it’s 3D printable (or “watertight,” in industry jargon). Other free tools like netfabb or the Solid Inspector plugin for Sketchup will find and correct errors you inadvertently created.
* Now with your ready-to-print file, you just need to find an outlet to sell it. Sites like CG Trader are pure design marketplaces which allow users to search for 3D printable designs and print them on their own 3D printers. Other sites like Shapeways or i.Materialise allow similar services.
Buy a 3D printer and offer a 3D printing service. While the concept is simple, this option is not quite as easy. It will require an investment of hundreds to thousands of dollars to acquire a printer.
* The first step is to select a printer that has the right balance of cost, output quality, versatility, and ease of use.
* Once you have the printer in your home or office you will need to spend ample time experimenting with it and mastering its intricacies. You will need to understand how variables like layer height, extrusion temperature, and travel speed will impact your print job. You will need to know how to select appropriate feedstock and optimize it based on the material type. Even the software you choose to turn the printable file into machine code (G-code in industry jargon) can influence the output. Many printers come with their own software to do this, but you may get different (perhaps better, in some cases) results with the open source replicator G, for instance. This in itself can be a fun path of discovery.
* Once you are confident in your expertise you can enter the fray by offering your services as part of one of the emerging 3D printing networks. These are turnkey solutions with support for invoicing and shipping that allow you to list your printer and accept orders from people with designs they want printed. Currently, the largest such network is 3D Hubs.
Come up with a novel online product/service that leverages 3D printing. This opportunity requires the most money and creativity, but it also has the highest return potential. Here, you are making an online business where you sell a product revolutionized by 3D printing or some other related service.
* The key to coming up with a valuable service comes back to the freedoms inherent to 3D printing. For instance, the ability to easily modify designs lends to automated customization of products. Users can self-create customizations on your website and let 3D printers do the work. For inspiration, consider examples like the custom 3D figurines of Shapify or the new site for custom shoes called Feetz.
* Once you have crafted a service, develop your website. Website design has become fairly streamlined and commoditized. Mainly you will want to focus on the features that uniquely leverage 3D printing. The output of your website will be ready to print models.
Once your website design is underway, next secure a means to fabricate orders.
* If your website takes off, you will want professional grade equipment costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. While you are building up to that, you can start out by partnering with an existing 3D printing service provider. These are firms that own banks of professional grade 3D printers and will print objects for you for a fee. There are many of these around the country; one of the biggest is called Solid Concepts.
* You will want to develop your operational processes so that the path from the process of clients customizing and placing their orders, to that order being turned into a print-ready design, to the design being sent over to the 3D printer or service bureau, to the object being printed, finished, and shipped is as streamlined as possible. If you are working with a service bureau you will want to make sure to reduce the administrative burden of billing and shipping as much as possible.
Now, bring forth the magic. Before social media could be invented, the Internet needed hoards of developers for basic websites. Likewise, 3D printing needs a critical mass of printing capacity, designs to exercise those printers, and hoards of people developing new uses for them. Working to build that foundation now can put money in your pocket, but more importantly it can set you up to invent, or at least have a front row seat, to the birth of 3D printing disruptions that are sure to come. This is how the 3D printing revolution will unfold: by more and more tenacious creative people creating businesses around 3D printing. The more people use this technology, the more we will figure out the optimized place for 3D printing in our world. Be early to this shift, because it is coming.
We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?
- In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
- Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
- The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.
- New research looks at how partners' attitudes toward humor affects the overall quality of a relationship.
- Out of the three basic types of people, people who love to be laughed at made for better partners.
- Fine-tuning your sense of humor might be the secret to a healthy, happy, and committed relationship.
Tiny and efficient, these biodegradable single cells show promise as a way to target hard-to-reach cancers.
- Scientists in Germany have found a potential improvement on the idea of bacteria delivering medicine.
- This kind of microtargeting could be useful in cancer treatments.
- The microswimmers are biodegradable and easy to produce.
Metin Sitti and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently demonstrated that tiny drugs could be attached to individual algae cells and that those algae cells could then be directed through body-like fluid by a magnetic field.
The results were recently published in Advanced Materials, and the paper as a whole offers up a striking portrait of precision and usefulness, perhaps loosely comparable in overall quality to recent work done by The Yale Quantum Institute. It begins by noting that medicine has been attached to bacteria cells before, but bacteria can multiply and end up causing more harm than good.
A potential solution to the problem seems to have been found in an algal cell: the intended object of delivery is given a different electrical charge than the algal cell, which helps attach the object to the cell. The movement of the algae was then tested in 2D and 3D. (The study calls this cell a 'microswimmer.') It would later be found that "3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers increased more than twofold compared to their 2D mean swimming speed." The study continues —
More interestingly, 3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers in the presence of a uniform magnetic field in the x-direction was approximately threefolds higher than their 2D mean swimming speed.
After the 2D and 3D speed of the algal was examined, it was then tested in something made to approximate human fluid, including what they call 'human tubal fluid' (think of the fallopian tubes), plasma, and blood. They then moved to test the compatibility of the microswimmer with cervical cancer cells, ovarian cancer cells, and healthy cells. They found that the microswimmer didn't follow the path of bacteria cells and create something toxic.
The next logical steps from the study include testing this inside a living organism in order to assess the safety of the procedure. Potential future research could include examining how effective this method of drug delivery could be in targeting "diseases in deep body locations," as in, the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts.
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