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4 Ways to Boost Your Business with 3D Printers

by Allan Hoffman, Staples® Contributing Writer

Why print the specs for your small business’s new product when you can print out a prototype? New 3D printers can produce genuine, hold-in-your-hand objects. While there will always be a need for your traditional inkjet or laser printer, you can use 3D printing to boost your small business or even to start a new company around these capabilities.

What Are 3D Printers?

A 3D printer can be used to manufacture objects — yes, ones existing in three dimensions (a keychain, say, or a smartphone case). Of course, it’s not quite so simple as hitting the “print” button from a PDF file. These printers require you to create a computer model using special software or to download a model that’s already been created; then the printer works off that model to “print” the object. And, in the case of 3D printers, printing means adding layer upon layer of material based on the instructions in the computer model.

Just don’t expect a 3D printer to look like the inkjet on your desk. The Cube® 3D printer, for instance, comes in five colors, including blue, green and magenta, and it prints — that is, it creates objects from your design — on a slick platform built into the device. The Cube lets you print objects up to 5.5" x 5.5" x 5.5" in any of 16 colors. You can see it in action in this video.

3D Printing & Your Small Business

These 3D printers may one day occupy a place in your office as essential as the inkjet printer. According to a recent Forbes article, “With the power of manufacturing transferring from the factories to anyone with a laptop, there’s no telling how dramatically 3D printing could change the world economy, but one thing is for sure: small businesses and entrepreneurs will be at the helm of the transformation.”

Think of it this way. The desktop publishing revolution, with page layout software and laser printers, made newsletter and brochure printing affordable to small businesses — and just about everyone else. Now 3D printing promises to do the same (or something close to it) for objects otherwise requiring complex manufacturing techniques and machinery.

What does this mean for business owners and entrepreneurs? It essentially opens up a world of possibilities. And you don’t even need to own your own 3D printer. You can take advantage of these exciting capabilities at a Staples 3D Printing Experience Center, open April 10, 2014, in our Manhattan 5th Avenue store and our Studio City location in Los Angeles later this month. You can see a 3D printer in action, or take advantage of this technology for your small business. Consider these four ways they can impact your business.

  • Test Start-Up Ideas: Ideas are everywhere, but how do you know if you’ve got one with traction? That’s always a challenge for entrepreneurs, and it’s particularly challenging when your product requires producing an object. You can show off a Photoshop rendering to a potential angel investor or venture capital partner, but what if you could show off the real thing — or something akin to it? That’s just what you can do with 3D printing, making it easier than ever to test out your ideas — or try to seek funding for them — without having to have them manufactured.
  • Assist in Making Jewelry, Buttons & Other Accessories: While you can actually make jewelry with a 3D printer, the real usefulness may be using 3D printing as a way to create versions of items before having them mass-manufactured. A 3D printer allows designers of all types to experiment and test out designs in the real world, often at a fraction of the cost of previous production methods.
  • Produce Promotional Items: You can buy customized pens, mugs and zillions of other promotional items, but 3D printing opens up entirely new possibilities for producing items for everything from holiday gifts to corporate conferences. Businesses may want to do this for themselves, with a 3D printer of their own, but certainly small businesses offering 3D printing may pop up devoted entirely to creating specialized, one-of-a-kind promotional items and giveaways for individuals and businesses.
  • Create Parts for Specialized Machinery: Machines break — all the time. And if a machine your company uses is no longer being made, well, then the replacement parts sometimes cost an exorbitant amount. This new generation of 3D printers may solve this problem, and business owners — or 3D printing specialists serving them — may be the solution.

Let’s be clear: As amazing as 3D printing is already, this is just the beginning, with potential applications for everything from aerospace to medicine. And now’s the time you can be ahead of a trend that’s likely to shape how we do business for years to come.

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