For years, we’ve spoken of 3D printing in the future tense: a revolutionary set of technologies sitting just over the horizon.
It’s true that more speculative additive manufacturing technologies, like bioprinting and large-scale construction applications, remain the province of research labs and cutting-edge startups. But some 3D printing applications are already here, already viable, and already pretty standard.
Standard doesn’t mean mundane, of course. These six 3D printing applications are ideal for businesses of all sizes, even those with no need for large-scale manufacturing support.
- Rapid Prototyping
Research and development is an iterative process, sometimes painfully so. As you work your way toward a marketable product, you’ll almost certainly develop and discard multiple models along the way.
3D printing renders this process less costly and time-consuming, and may well enable you to bring more of your prototyping work in-house. There’s nothing quite like having a working model to manipulate as you work to solve the last remaining barriers to marketability.
- Rapid Molding and Tooling
3D printing is a surprisingly versatile, and surprisingly cost-effective, molding and tooling aid. It’s not appropriate in all situations: aluminum molds and dies still work better in applications requiring unusual precision or loads. But the range of realistic applications grows wider with each year, thanks to advanced processes like fused deposition modeling (FDM); you’d be remiss not to at least weigh the pros and cons of 3D-printed molds against traditional alternatives.
- Customized Consumer Products
Custom manufacturing is faster, cheaper, and less bureaucratic with 3D printing. From simple toys to intricate piecework, FDM and other high-precision 3D printing methods support a dizzying range of consumer product applications. Bear in mind that you don’t necessarily have to sell your 3D printed products to make an impression; branded marketing collateral (see below) is a fantastic use of your printing bandwidth.
- Customized Swag
Love custom swag? You and everyone else. Whether you’re looking to slap your label on a virtually indestructible coaster or making an entire product line out of branded swag for your clients, polyjet and FDM processes support a vast range of potential applications.
- Scale Models and Miniatures
3D printing is a fantastic way to rapidly and cheaply turn up scale models and miniatures. From 3D architectural schematics to boiled-down renderings of parts or equipment, additive manufacturing can create the first physical representation of your vision. Better to commit it to resin now than regret a missed opportunity later.
- Off-the-Wall Marketing Collateral
If a picture says a thousand words, a model says a million. (Give or take; your mileage may vary.) Get your creative team together to brainstorm off-the-wall marketing applications supported by cost-effective 3D printing processes: a branded trinket encapsulating your company’s core service line, a printed logo in full color, a miniature brand mascot. The sky’s the limit.
Up Your 3D Printing Game
If you’re not yet using any of these 3D printing applications, perhaps one or more is in your future. Or perhaps you have a better idea: a more appropriate application that you strongly suspect will add real value to your business.
If neither, don’t despair. The additive manufacturing space is changing faster than casual observers realize. Today’s pipe dreams could well be tomorrow’s commercial realities. And maybe, just maybe, your company will do its small part to bring them to life.
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