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Starting a 3D Printing Business – A Complete Guide

Do you want to start a 3D printing business? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a 3D printing business with NO money and no experience.

Okay, so we have provided you an in-depth sample 3D printing business plan template. We also took it further by analyzing and drafting a sample 3D printing marketing plan backed up by actionable guerrilla marketing ideas for 3D printing business. In this article, we will be considering all the requirements for starting a 3D printing business. So put on your entrepreneurial hat and let’s proceed.

Why Start a 3D Printing Business?

We all know that our world has advanced rapidly from the Gutenberg printing machines of the 19th century to a more advance medium of inscribing ink on paper. It has sure jumped faraway from just printing on paper to printing on other surfaces such as cotton, ceramics, wood and other clean surfaces. To make things simpler, 3D means three dimensional printing which means an additive technology in which objects are built up in a great many very thin layers.

Even without experts saying it, we all know that 3D Printing is steadily becoming one of the most popular trends all over the world. Every corner of the earth are talking about it and that is a good signal that entrepreneurs need. Be you a job seeker, a student, stay at home mom or even a person who needs to earn extra cash, you don’t have to invest millions of dollars like big companies to sell products. Starting 3D printing business is easier than you can imagine.

Let us all take a moment to envisage a future in which a device connected to a computer can print a solid object. A society in which we can have tangible goods as well as intangible services delivered to our desktops or high-street shops over the Internet.

3D printing offers a wide range of business opportunities that can rain cash into your bank account now and even more in the future since it is a business that will get better with time. 3D printing is the next big thing in the printing industry.

Believe it or not, nothing could be more fascinating than having pictures printed out exactly the way they look. Note that with 3D printing becoming more popular, the market for this new technology is expected to blossom, which means that there are huge profit opportunities for entrepreneurs who are willing to start a 3D printing business.

Starting a 3D Printing Business – A Complete Guide

  • Industry Overview

The 3D printing market is expected to garner $8.6 billion by 2020, registering a CAGR of 21% from 2015 – 2020. 3D printing is also referred as additive printing technology that lets manufacturers to develop objects using a digital file and variety of printing materials.

The global market for 3D printing materials includes polymers, metals and ceramics. Also 3D printing offers a wide array of applications in various industries, namely consumer products, industrial products, defense & aerospace, automotive, healthcare, education & research and others.

From detailed analysis, we believe that the factors driving this market are reduction of errors, high degree of accuracy, efficient use of raw materials, ability to build customized products, simultaneous use of multiple materials for printing, efficient use of production time and finances, and competency over traditional techniques among others. High production cost to individual users, expensive 3D printing software, lack of channel partner assistance, and scarcity of skilled labour are some of the factors mitigating the global 3D printing industry.

Reports have it that the global market for 3D printing has been segmented based on component, application and geography. Based on component, the market is classified into technology, material and services. Application wise, the market is categorized into consumer products, aerospace, defense, education and research, automotive, industrial, and others. We believe that the consumer products industry has been the highest revenue generating segment and it is expected to be the highest generating segment even during the forecasted period.

Starting a 3D Printing Business – Market Feasibility and Research

  • Demographics and Psychographics

Without even stating it, it is very obvious that 3D printing is a growing area of technology, and many are interested in learning more about the opportunities their business could benefit from with the use of a 3D printer. A lot of companies are already pioneering new advances by reducing labour and production costs and creating goods for their businesses to sell, although costs will need to come down even further to make 3D printing the everyday 21st century version of a trip to the hardware store.

But no matter how sweet and eager it may sound, you should make adequate market research before you start this business. Note that it is your duty to dictate and make sure you develop strategic pacts with corporate organizations, advertising, branding agencies, and religious organizations et al. Outlined below is the list of sectors that always need the services you are willing to provide;

  • Banks, Insurance Companies and other related Financial Institutions
  • Blue Chips Companies
  • Corporate Organizations
  • Manufacturers and Distributors
  • Real Estate Owners, Developers and Contractors
  • Research and Development Companies
  • The Government (Public Sector)
  • Schools (High Schools, Colleges and Universities)
  • Hotels
  • Celebrities, Politicians, Public Figures and Public Speakers
  • Sport Organizations
  • Religious Organizations
  • Political Parties
  • Television Stations
  • Printing Press (Publishing Houses) and Authors
  • Branding and Advertising agencies
  • Aspiring celebrities
  • Entrepreneurs and Start – Ups

List of Niche ideas in the 3D Printing Business

Indeed the beauty of 3D printing is that it completely fades the lines between the traditional notion of ‘producers’ and ‘consumers,’ leading to an entirely new category: the ‘prosumer’. Not just by mere words but with facts, today’s entry-level 3D printers, for example, empower makers to produce novel, commercial-grade products easily and affordably in their very own homes.

There are several distinct trends in consumer goods manufacturing. Today’s buyers demand mass customization, local production, and sustainable materials—all of which 3D printing can provide. Which is why starting this business is the next best thing, but you need to focus on a particular niche if you wish to survive in this industry. These niches may include;

  • Customized TV printing
  • Jewelry and ornament production
  • 3D product selling
  • 3D Ultrasound
  • Bio-printing
  • Corporate printing service
  • 3D modelling
  • Apparel designing
  • Pills production
  • Firearms production
  • 3D blogging
  • 3D movie production
  • 3D games
  • 3D architecture
  • 3D selfish studio
  • 3D art printing etc.

Level of Competition in the 3D Printing Business

Simply put, businesses in the 3D Printing industry offer 3D printing and rapid prototyping services. A 3D printing service is the automatic construction of physical objects using additive manufacturing technology. Note that this include melting or softening material to produce layers, laying liquid material thermosets that are cured and cutting thin layers to shape that are then joined together.

This particular industry over time has experienced rapid growth and this is due to rapid technological advancements, falling costs and new uses for 3D printing technology. We believe that the demand for 3D printing and rapid prototyping service and of course the revenue generated is expected to increase rapidly as 3D printing and rapid prototyping explodes in popularity and accessibility, especially in consumer markets.

We also believe that this Industry is indeed a very large industry and pretty much active in all the parts of the world. Analysis has it that in the United States of America alone, there are about 151 registered and licensed 3D printing and rapid prototyping service companies responsible for employing about 3,814 and the industry rakes in a whooping sum of $492 million annually. This shows that this industry is becoming very popular and rising, and with this comes competition and fight for industry shares.

List of Well known 3D Printing Businesses

  • Proto labs
  • Hewlett Packard
  • 3D Systems
  • Materialise
  • Organovo
  • Stratasys
  • Arcam AB
  • Autodesk, Inc.
  • The ExOne Company
  • Hoganas AB
  • Optomec, Inc.
  • Ponoko Limited
  • Voxeljet AG.

Economic Analysis

Indeed making money online is not easy as it seems from the outside; it needs lots of work and patience. If you see entrepreneurs who make millions of dollars online, keep in mind that they have worked hard and invested years in their business.

But unlike those money-making ways that need lots of effort and money to invest, the 3D printing is a unique business that you run online. In this industry, you can even create an attractive iPhone or iPad case, then create it in your printer and show it in action through a video tutorial. People will trust the product because they see it on your hands.

It is very obvious that the 3D Printer Profits come with lots of resources, and it will save you years of searching for profitable niches. Only the smartphone market is huge enough to accept thousands of 3D printing companies, that is why there is no real competition actually.

So, this is the market to invest your time from now on. One unique thing about this new business is that it will never stop working. Everything in this world can be printed in 3D and sold. The huge demon on 3D printer products and prototype is going crazy.

Starting your 3D Printing Business from Scratch or Buying a Franchise

From our detailed research, we have been able to ascertain that the advantages of buying a 3D printing franchise instead of starting a new business venture are quite great and attractive. But it is very important to note that buying a franchise isn’t necessarily a bed of roses.

For you to get a franchise that suits your goals, you need to strictly evaluate the factors involved with buying a franchise, you need to do your research even before deciding to commit yourself. It is your right to make sure the business is the right fit for your personal and professional goals. Buying a franchise indeed has its own issues and challenges, and with the speed at which this industry is growing, you will need to brace yourself with information and innovations.

For you to achieve your primary goal of building a unique business, note that you can become an industry franchisee instead of starting from the scratch. If you have decided to start a 3D printing business, we advise that you do the following;

  • Try to research the history of the company
  • Know what you want and if it is the best of you
  • Hope for the Best But Plan for the Worst
  • Negotiate for a Good Price

Possible Challenges and Threats of Starting a 3D Printing Business

Have it in mind that 3D Printing is one of the key elements of the era of the factory of the future. 3D printing services is like that innovation machine that make it possible for any person or business with a 3D file to virtually run their own 3D printing factory, distantly, and go from a file to an object, easily, at a moderated cost, and without the need to invest in machines and in their running, maintenance and update. Possible challenges of starting this business may include;

  • Combining software and hardware
  • Analysing and repair of 3D files
  • 3D Printing means permanent renewal
  • The delicacies of 3D printing
  • Meeting clients’ expectations, just with their 3D file
  • Getting experienced 3D printing technicians

Starting a 3D Printing Business – Legal Aspect

  • Best legal entity for 3D Printing Business

When deciding on the exact legal structure that will suit your business, you have two options- sole proprietorship and the LLC. Between the two structures mentioned, you need to choose based on the size and vision you have for your business.

Since your business is all about the income and interest of your clients, the LLC is the best legal entity for your business be is it small, medium or large. It is important to state that the advantage of creating an LLC typically outweigh any perceived disadvantages. The merits include;

  • Few restrictions
  • Limited compliance requirements
  • Protected assets
  • Flexible management structure

Catchy Business Name ideas for a 3D Printing Business

  • 3D Factory
  • 3D Palace
  • 3D Zone
  • 3D Kingdom
  • Access Print
  • Brain Printing
  • Breadbox Studio
  • Future zone
  • Manny printing
  • Icreation
  • Future mode
  • Kickstart
  • Nivometric Technologies
  • Pirate 3D
  • Quick Parts
  • 3D Labs
  • Rethink Robotics
  • Sound Print
  • Everyday print
  • Solid Print
  • Solid Prototype

Insurance Policies

Indeed 3D printing is fast becoming a game-changer in the way we do business. But you should note that with new innovations come unexpected risks, which is why it is very important that you understand the potential risks before starting your 3D printing business.

When selling or manufacturing products, whether they are produced through traditional manufacturing or 3D printing, it is essential to work with an insurance broker who has experience in product liability. Insurance you will need may include;

  • General Liability Insurance
  • property insurance
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance
  • commercial auto insurance
  • umbrella insurance
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • crime insurance

Intellectual Property Protection

In case you do not know, 3D printing has been around for decades within certain manufacturing industries where many legal regimes, including patents, industrial design rights, copyright, and trademark may apply. But there is not much jurisprudence to explain the way these laws will apply if 3D printers become mainstream and individuals and hobbyist communities begin manufacturing items for personal use, for non-profit distribution, or for sale.

We believe that any of the mentioned legal regimes may mitigate the distribution of the designs used in 3D printing, or the distribution or sale of the printed item. For one to be able to do these things where an active intellectual property is involved, a person would have to contact the owner and ask for a license, which may come with conditions and a price.

But we believe that many patents, designs and copyright laws contain a standard limitation or exception for ‘private’, ‘non-commercial’ use of inventions, designs or works of art protected under intellectual property (IP). Have it in mind that Patents cover inventions including processes, machines, manufactures, and compositions of matter and have a finite duration which varies between countries, but generally 20 years from the date of application. That is why if a type of wheel is patented, printing, using, or selling such a wheel could be an infringement of the patent registered.

It is very important to state that Copyright covers an expression in a tangible, fixed medium and often lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years after his or her death. This means that if someone makes a statue, they may have copyright on the look of that statue, so if someone sees that statue, they cannot distribute designs or print an identical or similar statue during or after the person’s lifetime.

Is Professional Certification Needed to Run a 3D Printing Business?

We believe that this industry certification has not been made popular or is not yet in limelight, but it still doesn’t mean that getting a few or some certifications won’t set you apart in the industry. No matter how light or beyond the light as they might be, there is a need for you to consider taking and getting them before venturing into the business. They are,

  • 3D printer certification
  • Professional Certificate of Competency in 3D Engineering Design and Printing for Rapid Prototyping
  • Professional Certificate Program in Innovation and Technology
  • 3DVinci creations certification

Legal Documents Needed for a 3D printing business 

  • Articles of Organization
  • LLC operating agreement
  • Business license
  • Business plan
  • Tax

Financing your 3D Printing Business

Building a 3D printing business means having the money to buy all the items needed to start your business and more. If you have been working on a profitable business plan but you don’t have the financial means to get things started, you can still get funding as long as you don’t need a very huge amount. You can seek capital in a number of ways:

  • Crowdfunding websites

Note that these websites allows you to gain access to different types of investors. Be it the general public, philanthropists, or accredited investors, each one can all help you realize your dream.

  • Accelerators

We believe that these programs have a set time frame in which start-ups spend a few weeks working with a group of mentors. The goal is to build your business and learn how to avoid inevitable problems along the way. Companies are given a small seed investment, but there is a catch, they have to provide a small amount of equity in exchange.

  • Incubators

Have it in mind when starting a 3D printing business that you might also want to read a bit more about incubators. A typical business incubator will provide you with office space and management training. More than half of these programs are mixed, meaning that they work with clients coming from different industries. Technology incubators make for 39 percent of the total of incubation programs.

  • Angel networks

Know that an angel investor not only invests in your dream, but they will also offer mentorship and provide access to their contacts.

Choosing a Suitable Location for your 3D Printing Business

Just like starting any other business, you will need to carefully choose a business location. Take your time to look at other technology related businesses in your proposed location. They can be noticed easily because it is hard to come across a business area that does not have a technology inclined business.

Most technology related businesses choose their locations using population density, average adjusted gross income (AGI) in that surrounding area, and proximity to their target market. Since the 3D printing business is a technology business and one that will stand the test of time, we advise that you leverage on the same factors when choosing locations for your business. We also advice that you know the specific area you are considering very well.

Starting a 3D Printing Business – Technical and Manpower Requirements

Starting a 3D printing business is not as easy as walking in the park, especially since it still sounds a bit futuristic to most of us. Some few years back, this business was sounding like something intangible. But a lot has happened over the past few years, and now you can build a profitable business with a 3D printer. The 3D revolution is expected to surpass more traditional methods of manufacturing. Things you will need to start this business may include;

  • 3D printer

As a beginner, it is advisable that you buy an in-house printer and start your projects from there slowly. A lot 3D printing companies use a third-party 3D vendor, yet outsourcing is not always the quickest way to get the project done. It may lower your costs, but it doesn’t make up for the inevitable delays. Have it in mind that the type of 3D printer you are going to buy solely depends on the work you are going to be doing.

  • Materials

It is very essential to note that 3D printers don’t come with the materials needed to print the products; you will need to get them separately. Different types of products require different materials. We believe there are two materials used for 3D printing. You have the Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and the Poly Lactic Acid (PLA).

The latter is excellent for beginners, but the models it creates may change under high heat. But the ABC indeed is a popular choice for businesses due to its strength and flexibility. But you should note that not all printers can work with both materials, this is why you need to choose both material and printer best suited for the type of products you are planning to manufacture.

  • Software

We believe that there are lots of exceptional open-source software within the big and vast internet archive for you. But as your company grows, you can invest in a one-year license for a 3D modelling software if you wish.

  • Training

It is very important that you take your time to invest in your business by taking 3D animation courses. Both you and your staff should be well-trained in the art of 3D printing. You can either take online classes or look for a tech school in your area.

The Production Process Involved in a 3D Printing Business

There are different processes and methods in this business. The main differences between processes are in the way layers are deposited to create parts and in the materials that are used. We believe that each process has its own advantages and drawbacks, which is why some companies offer a choice of powder and polymer for the material used to build the object; while others sometimes use standard, off-the-shelf business paper as the build material to produce a durable prototype. But the major considerations in choosing a machine are generally speed, cost of the 3D printer, the printed prototype, choice and cost of the materials, and colour capabilities.

In this business, some processes melt or soften the material to produce the layers. In Fused filament fabrication, also known as Fused deposition modelling (FDM), the model or part is produced by throwing out small beads or streams of material which get strong immediately to form layers.

Note that a filament of thermoplastic, metal wire, or other material is fed into an extrusion nozzle head (3D printer extruder), where it heats the material and turns the flow on and off. We believe that FDM is somewhat restricted in the variation of shapes that may be fabricated.

Also another technique in 3D printing fuses parts of the layer and then moves upward in the working area, adding another layer of granules and repeating the process until the piece has built up. Have it in mind that this process uses the unfused media to support overhangs and thin walls in the part being produced, which shortens the need for temporary auxiliary supports for the piece.

Always note that the Laser sintering techniques is made up of selective laser sintering, with both metals and polymers, and direct metal laser sintering. This selective laser melting does not use sintering for the fusion of powder granules but has to completely melt the powder using a high-energy laser to create fully dense materials in a layer-wise method that has mechanical properties like those of conventional manufactured metals.

Though Electron beam melting is a similar type of additive manufacturing technology for metal parts (e.g. titanium alloys). But it manufactures parts by melting metal powder layer by layer with an electron beam in a high vacuum. It is also important to note that another method consists of an inkjet 3D printing system, which builds the model one layer at a time by spreading a layer of powder (plaster, or resins) and printing a binder in the cross-section of the part using an inkjet-like process. Have it in mind that with laminated object manufacturing, thin layers are cut to shape and joined together.

This business surely has many more processes discovered and yet to be discovered, and they might depend on the kind of job you want to perform. Just be very careful to decide what you need and how best to get the very result you want. Running this business is very hard but with consistency and planning, you can sure be very successful.

Starting a 3D Printing Business – The Marketing Plan

  • Marketing strategies for a 3D Printing Business

We cannot deny how important marketing is to the business world. In this particular case, you need to devise means to effectively claim market shares before the industry becomes saturated. There are many ways to do this and they include;

  • Having a website

When you have a good website, you can effectively explain your services and your rates, and give potential customers information about you and your professional background. Having a website will also give you the opportunity to share relevant information that individuals might find interesting and helpful.

  • Making use of marketing materials

Make use of inexpensive marketing materials such as business cards and postcards. We advise you drop these off with ventures and businesses around you.

  • Mouth to mouth advertising

One very crucial way of spreading information about your business is to get referrals from family and friends. We believe that they would create the initial buzz for your business and provide the bulk of the testimonials on your website.

  • Making use of customer’s testimonies

Making us of your customer’s testimonials will go a long way to prove to people that you know what you are doing. That way people who visit your site can see that your services work and are motivated to patronize you.

Strategies to Boost your 3D Printing Business Brand Awareness and Creating a Corporate identity

There are countless ways you can promote your business. Below are the best methods that require only small investment from your part:

  • Social media

It is important for you to know that starting a 3D printing business means making a name for yourself. You can start by identifying influencers and engage with them. Sooner or later, those individuals will create some buzz around your service. We also advice that you use social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google+ to keep them and your customers up to date of your accomplishments.

  • Online ads

Have it in mind that online advertising is one of the top ways a starting business can expand its reach and find new customers. In this strategy, you have many options available such as pay-per-click, paid social media, display advertising, and in-app ads. Note that direct website advertising is also a good idea.

  • Embedded marketing

We believe that embedded marketing or product placement often involves ads placed within videos, shows, online stories, or other types of media. Be it links, written words, video, or visuals, the way you use it depends on your objectives and budget. But this marketing technique is beneficial for the viewers as well.

  • Resellers

In this brand promotional strategy, a reseller will buy a batch of your products and sell them at a higher cost. But the advantage is that these partners often visit potential buyers in person and tell them about the product. But you will have to sell your models at a discount price to the reseller.

  • Promotional goods

Note that almost anything can be branded with your company’s name or logo, but you can also give away 3D printed products. Have it in mind that this industry you have decided to join does not have the same restrictions as others. So you can easily provide your possible customers with something else than just the standard branded t-shirt.

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