This article is focused on businesses and their leverage of 3D printers. M3D's CEO Michael Armani explains why he believes that small businesses are better poised to leverage 3D printers and how 3D printing could help a business stand apart from its competition. Michael also addresses his customers' success stories, including those utilizing 3D printing for business in prototyping and design work, as well as for customization and unique product offerings.
I think this is a great topic. 3D printing was once an expensive and experimental technology, but its use has developed tremendously in the past couple of years. After creating a consumer-focused 3D printer for home, office, and artistic applications, we got to see the evolution of the coolest business-type uses that we never could have predicted in 2014. The first case I remember from the early days of our kickstarter campaign is a high-tech person who happened to be a realtor and used the Micro to print keychains with his company logo as memorabilia to prospective clientele. He received one of our Beta units in back in 2014 and it worked so well that he bought two more printers for the office later on.
That was a cool novelty, but there were increasingly more practical uses that took advantage of the Micro's ability to personalize everything. Soon after we delivered kickstarter rewards and went from the pre-order phase to having printers in stock, we were overwhelmed with a number of questions and inquiries coming from all kinds of businesses. The cake-topper business was one of the first that started to hit home. People in the cake business were interested in modifying molding and making inverse molds so that they could produce them for special occasions. As such, even bridesmaids would message us saying that they were getting the Micro specifically to make a his-and-hers customized cake topper for their friends' cake.
On a similar note, we had several businesses that bought our 3D printer to make custom cookie cutter shapes and molds. For girl scouts, for example, this was an exploration of technology combined with making traditional cookies look different and fun. Another example that comes to mind is a company that started a business off the idea of just making custom cookie creations, and one would have to buy a batch of 100 custom cookies to get their own template made. It worked well for them and we even helped several of their customers perfect their models and adjust print settings to make long-lasting cookie cutters.
Another business that really struck a chord was 3Dponics, who led the way to using the Micro for hydroponics pursuits. The Micro was a relatively affordable investment compared to the extreme prices in the hydroponic industry. For example, grow pots can cost as much as $5 to buy, but can be made on the Micro for pennies, and also have the added bonus of being made from biodegradable plastic. There's the convenience factor of using the printer as well as the ability to make things in-house which is a plus in this industry. 3Dponics sells their hydroponic systems online and has been all over the news.
At several of the shows we attended I met with backers and users who came up to me with print samples asking for suggestions and improvements. One of these characters had the best use case I'd seen for blocks of old building blocks (similar to Lego parts). The blocks were for a now-obsolete train set. This backer came up to me and showed me what looked like a convincing replicate of the piece that holds up a sky train. He said the blocks that he made and fine-tuned the Micro for were printed in ABS and sell for $5 a piece on eBay and that he was successfully selling them in packs of 30.
These are some of the early applications forming today. There are plenty more to mention. We get requests daily from dentists and orthodontists looking to create direct replacements for retainers and inverse molds for replacement fillings, as well as make replicas for demonstrations and practice. There are businesses that use the Micro to turn sketches and comics into 3D designs, or even print scans of human faces. On a day-to-day basis, we see a wide variety of customers like hobby stores that print RC cars and model train parts, businesses that print custom name tags for their employees, campuses that print signs and door plaques, and Etsy stores making custom candles, to name a few off the top of my head.
Unleashing creativity is the nature of 3D printing. There is no one killer application because the ability to personalize things is so extremely unbounded in three-dimensions, there is literally no limit to the number of applications. Everyone has a different use-case, and it's always very specific and unique in one way or another.