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Start Your Own Company – 3 Great 3D Printing Business Ideas

by Nathaniel Head
Jun 29, 2019

Starting your own 3D printing business can be a lucrative way to supplement your existing income. Check out these 3 great ways to make money through additive manufacturing!

Start Your Own Company – 3 Great 3D Printing Business Ideas

3D Printing Business Ideas A Slice of the 3D Printing Pie

Your low-poly army.
Your low-poly army. Source: Fendalton / Pinshape

So, you’ve bought yourself a 3D printer, you’ve worked out the correct settings for perfect prints, and you’ve printed an army of low-poly Bulbasaurs. What’s next?

Not everyone has the time or the energy to acquire the skills and knowledge that you’ve equipped yourself with. But many are interested in the benefits that 3D printing provides, such as the ability to iterate through designs quickly, the low cost production of components, the lack of a need for costly tooling, and the design freedom that only 3D printing offers.

This means that the hours spent printing the Pokédex actually have value, namely that you can offer your printing prowess out in exchange for cash money. In the following sections, we’ll go over some ideas for making money on the side, setting up a business, or perhaps even creating a 3D printing empire

1

3D Printing Business Ideas Subcontracting

Print and sell!
Print and sell! Source: blog.zmorph3d.com

This is the most obvious way to make money with your 3D printer. It’s a bespoke, low-cost manufacturing service for people who need components fast.

The workflow goes something like this:

  1. A prospect contacts you with a ready-made 3D model and asks you to print it.
  2. You offer a price to have this file printed.
  3. The customer accepts.
  4. You print the part in the requested quantities.
  5. You send them the part (or parts) by post.
  6. Profit.

Print. Rinse. Repeat.

3D Printing Business Model

This is a simple business model, but there are a few things to bear in mind. As with any business, in order for customers to find you, you have to have visibility. This model relies heavily on effective marketing (which doesn’t have to be scary or even cost much money). It could be starting a Facebook, Reddit, or LinkedIn community and posting regular updates. It could be telling your family and friends at every opportunity that you can print anything their hearts desire. It could even be spending a small amount of money on Facebook, Instagram, or Google advertising, for example. You could even apply to be accepted on Craftcloud, All3DP’s 3D printing and price comparison service (assuming you have a large enough capacity).

Get It 3D Printed
Product image of Craftcloud

Craftcloud – 3D Printing & Price Comparison Service

Save up to 50% by comparing prices from the leading 3D printing services. Craftcloud – 3D Printing & Price Comparison Service by All3DP provides worldwide manufacturing and delivery.

The costs to take into account with this business model are going to be the cost of your 3D printer (or printers), marketing, insurance (you are providing a product after all), premises costs – if you set up at home, you’ll need to think about how this affects your insurance and utilities bills – and consumables (e.g. material, nozzles, bed adhesives, and sheets). Depending on the printer you choose, setup costs could be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. You may also need to start small and local.

When providing quotes for clients, your fees will depend on your appetite for risk, as well as certain other factors. We all know 3D printers can be temperamental beasts, so you may want to account for failed builds and wasted material in your cost. The easiest way to calculate a cost is to charge an hourly rate plus the material cost of the component. You’ll also need to account for your own time. For example, a printed part may need significant support removal or bonding if it’s a large multi-part design.

There are also options for added value within this 3D printing business model. For instance, you can charge extra for post-processing, such as smoothing, painting, baking, or assembly.

The beauty of this scheme is that you can put as much or as little time into it as you want to or can afford. It’s easily scalable with demand, as you can just keep adding printers. You can go from one printer to an entire print farm, slowly building your 3D printing empire, layer by layer!

Two Ender 3D printers, side by side.
Get your setup ready for easy production! Source: Threedee_Bus_Driver / Thingiverse

Subcon Lite

If the idea of sales and marketing makes you shiver, all is not lost. There are plenty of platforms out there that do all the hard work for you. For example, you can join a network like Treatstock. Such outlets connect potential customers with printers, handling most of the customer acquisition and interaction and leaving you to do what you do best: print!

The Treatstock website
Treatstock connects makers to customers. Source: Treatstock

Role Models

There are a number of companies out there already showing how viable this is. Check them out to know your competition.

2

3D Printing Business Ideas CAD and Reverse Engineering

Point Cloud to CAD
Point Cloud to CAD Source: https://www.turiyasoftech.com/reverse-engineering/

Imagine a time when it was impossible to model a 3D object on a computer. Imagine having to draw components by hand, from multiple views, with every length, width, depth, angle, and diameter labeled. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Well, that was the case for all of human history up until around the last half of the 20th century (discounting the claims of ancient aliens theorists).

That said, there are still some engineers and workshops today that work from 2D drawings. And many more are using components that are so old, the drawings have been lost. That or they never even had drawings in the first place.

The workflow of this suggestion goes something like this:

  1. A prospect contacts you with a 2D drawing of a component they want printed or with a physical component they want digitized and printed.
  2. You offer a price for your time using CAD to create a digital twin of the component and the cost to print the part.
  3. The customer accepts.
  4. If it’s a 2D drawing, you use your hard-earned 3D modeling skills to create the part. If it’s a physical part, depending on its complexity, you use measuring instruments (such as calipers) to accurately measure and model the part. Otherwise, you use 3D scanning and create an STL.
  5. You use your 3D printer to print and validate the geometry of the component.
  6. Once validated, if more robust materials are needed, you can use a service such as Craftcloud to find a supplier you can subcontract to.
  7. You post the freshly printed part to the customer, and send them the digital twin electronically.
  8. Profit.

Draw. Print. Rinse. Repeat.

Measuring a part with a caliper
Precision and accuracy are extremely important in this line of work. Source: WWU Engineering and Design / YouTube

3D Printing Business Model

Many of the challenges that are addressed above apply here as well. To reiterate, you will need to ensure that you have visibility. Networking with engineers is a great way to get your name out there for this kind of work. Additionally, you’ll need to take into account that you’ll be responsible for the accuracy of the representation of these parts. That means insurances to account for this responsibility as well as to cover the parts you supply.

The costs will be similar as well, with the added cost of CAD software. (There are some great free solutions, especially if you are a student, so it’s worth doing some research). You’ll also need to take into account the cost of a 3D scanner (or how much it costs for someone else to scan for you). Setup costs for this 3D printing business model would likely be around $2,000 and up.

When quoting, you’ll need to account for the time it takes you to accurately model components. You’ll also need to account for any money spent on subcontracted scanning (with a markup for yourself of course!). The most straightforward way to quote for this kind of work is to charge a day rate.

Alongside your 3D printing skills, you’ll need some excellent CAD skills to make this a viable option. It may not be the best choice if you’re just starting out on your 3D journey.

Role Models

3DReveng are a Dutch team making use of this concept.

3

3D Printing Business Ideas Product Development

Have your own Bright idea
Have your own Bright idea Source: https://blog.grabcad.com/blog/2018/08/01/10-easiest-to-learn-product-design-softwares/

This is where it gets really fun. You can use both your CAD skills and your 3D printing skills to come up with some incredible new products to sell. While everyone else is out there selling t-shirts with cats on them, you can be inventing new and awesome items, creating beautiful jewelry or designing beautiful ornaments!

The workflow of this suggestion goes something like this:

  1. You brainstorm concepts for products that you think people have a need or a desire for.
  2. You flesh out your ideas and begin designing the 3D models.
  3. You print some samples.*
  4. You test and validate your products by showing them to friends, family, or even potential customers.
  5. You iterate based on feedback from your testers in order to create a more desirable and saleable product.
  6. You perfect your product and sell as many as possible
  7. Profit.

Design. Print. Rinse. Repeat.

*One way of using 3D printing to create jewelry is through the use of the lost-wax casting process. This will involve some extra steps after Step 3.

A sampling of 3D printed products available on Etsy
A sampling of 3D printed products available on Etsy. Source: Etsy

3D Printing Business Model

This model will require a heavy focus on sales and marketing. You’ll need to be willing to go out and sell your product to people: maker fairs, networking events, markets, and even approaching merchants to sell your products on your behalf. Another avenue is creating a webstore, and utilizing e-commerce platforms such as eBay or Etsy.

It will also be heavily reliant on your design skills. You’ll need some great CAD skills to make your designs a reality.

The setup costs for this model can be as low as $1,000, again depending on the equipment you decide on. It may be that you just use your desktop printer to verify your designs, subcontracting the actual production. This is especially true if you’re having jewelry directly printed. Precious metal printing is incredibly costly.

If you decide to go down the lost-wax casting jewelry route, you’ll need to account for both the cost of the printing material and the cost of the metal you decide to cast with.

The price of your product will depend on a few factors. If it is a bespoke, one off design, you will need to cost in your design time as well as the production cost. If the design is for something you sell in volume, then a markup on the cost of production will likely be the simplest way forward.

Role Models

Who could be a better example of this model than Josef Prusa himself. He’s designed and used 3D printed components in the production of his printers from the very beginning!

Feature image source: Drake3D / Etsy

License: The text of "Start Your Own Company – 3 Great 3D Printing Business Ideas" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.