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Trade Comment

3D Printing

With advancements in 3D technology, Harry Mottram asks “how can print companies embrace 3D printing?”

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Isabelle Marelly, director of marketing, Massivit 3D

Embracing 3D printing

If you are a large format print business or sign and display operation, then the good news is that a 3D printing opportunity might be within closer reach than you were aware. Moreover, just as it has proved already within the manufacturing world, 3D printing has the flexibility, speed and price point to unlock huge new creative opportunities and drive profitable growth for users in the graphic arts industry.

For the owners of large format print and sign businesses, 3D printing could be an enabler to unlocking the door to new business. The printing industry remains a difficult environment in which to operate and the need for higher impact output delivered faster and cheaper than the next provider will be a perpetual goal for those at the sharp-end. The ability to differentiate your offering and enhance your applications gamut to customers will always put you in good stead in the quest to maintain customers and win new ones.

3D printing could be an enabler to unlocking the door to new business

After all, it goes without saying that brand and marketing managers will always be seeking to maximise their budgets with as much ‘wow factor’ as possible. The ability to offer attention-grabbing, added-value visual communications that better engage target audiences achieves this. Moreover, it makes engaging — and subsequently keeping — such customers much easier.

Of course, if you are a large format print provider currently weighing up the options for your next investment, your decision will be governed by your company’s own aspirations and strategic objectives. Many of you are likely to be already running successful, profitable companies, having perhaps found a ‘niche’ offering or a stable portfolio of clients. That said, by embracing 3D printing and leaving your comfort zone to explore and add new applications to your service capability and ‘futureproof’ business, you will be able to differentiate your offering, which in turn will allow you to retain your overall competitive edge.

Great for education

Felipe Castañeda, marketing and design manager, MakerBot

3D Printing is often understood as an end, not a means. Professionals and consumers alike frequently mistake the technology as something that only generates “end use” objects  — objects that are “done” as soon as they come out of the machine. What’s often being overlooked is the capability of using 3D printing as a tool to solve a greater challenge — whether in a primary school classroom or the Apple design lab.

The ability to quickly and affordably iterate on a previous design is a major value of 3D printing. Printing in the traditional sense allows you to iterate and solve a two-dimension problem: creating drafts of a book of copies of a proposal. But what happens when your problem can’t be confined to paper? What if you need to see how a product feels in the hand or interacts with moving parts? Words fail here, but 3D printing fills the need to iterate in all of our dimensions.

Education users, who range from pre-school to university level, use 3D printers to better understand how to solve challenges from a structural or manufacturing perspective. Sketched ideas can now leap out of the notebook and be tested in the real world, where they can be iterated and improved; a physical representation of an idea that lets you see all the angles, nooks and crannies.

Similarly, product developers such as industrial designers and engineers can test their product ideas before moving on to more costly manufacturing technologies such as injection molding or CNC machining. That iPhone in your pocket? Its final design is the result of tens — if not hundreds — of 3D printed prototypes.

Professional users can gain the upper hand by innovating in a way those without a printer cannot

It’s for this reason that 3D printing access is so important. It’s a massive benefit — and therefore, an advantage — to those who can access one. Professional users can gain the upper hand by innovating in a way those without a printer cannot, while educational users are preparing themselves to use what will soon be a ubiquitous tool in many trades.


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