Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Strategy for Custom 3D Printing

In response to: “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” by, Martin Reeves, Claire Love, and Philipp Tillmanns.

Just how far will printing lead? Less than a decade ago, this question would have been met with raised eyebrows and mutterings of delusion, but with the introduction and growth of 3D printing the question has grown in traction. 3D printing can help prototype development, large scale productions, and individual creations.  It has spawned a new industry revolving around the printing of custom objects and has allowed those skilled in creating 3D models to sell digital creations to consumers who receive physical, never-touched objects.

Entrepreneurs of 3D printing need to understand what type of strategy they should be employing. When scaled with predictability and malleability, the 3D printing market falls neatly into the upper-right corner. The industry and technology is simply too new for accurate predictability. Companies like Shapeways have quickly taken the mantle to print out small custom models but the utility for expansion has still barely been scratched. For this same reason, the industry is still highly malleable; companies are still finding new areas to expand the utility of 3D printing.

The potential for 3D printers is growing; they can print new materials such as silver and recyclable materials are becoming more common as well. Furthermore, 3D printing heavily syncs with other technologies, such as 3D modeling software. The startup HeroForge, which allows printing of small figurines, has made their own 3D software for customers to use. Though their idea is small in scale, the idea of coupling easy 3D software with 3D printing could open up an entirely new market.

I encourage many companies to utilize and expand on 3D printing, but I also believe that any company that wishes to stay in the 3D printing market needs prepare a shaping strategic style. The barriers of entering the market are not particularly high. The uses for 3D printing are changing and expanding too quickly. As mentioned in the “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” article, the goal for companies in 3D printing needs to be to shape the unpredictable environment of the market to their own advantage. Companies need to stay on top of these changes, innovate their own, and show consumers they are doing so.

Currently, there has been dangerously low marketing within industries that utilize 3D printing. Companies such as Shapeways have focused on building one side of their clientele, modelers, but have focused less on actual consumers. As modeling software becomes more readily available Shapeways and similar companies will need to quickly build a larger ecosystem of customers before competition takes them away.

Companies which wish to utilize or completely focus on the custom creations allowed by 3D printers need to uphold a strategy which is not only flexible to changes in the technology, but also adapting to and finding new technological couplings which will further expand their industry.

Daniel Johnson


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