Gartner’s famous hype cycle has landed consumer hype for 3-D printing in a period of decline, but this has had little bearing on the advance of the technology. Despite waning consumer interest, 3-D printing has continued to grow at a rapid pace, largely due to adoption from entrepreneurs who see the technology as an integral part of the future.
3-D printing, which is most commonly associated with small-scale prototype development, is finally making the leap into market-scale production. What is driving the recent change? John Carrington, CEO and founder of ZVerse, a 3-D printing software company, explains, “Turning 2-D concepts into 3-D models used to take a significant amount of effort and expertise from the designer. It was immensely challenging to bridge the gap between idea and product fruition. With recent advances in software that support 3-D printing and its business integration, it has become feasible for entrepreneurs to leverage this technology to advance their businesses.”
Here are some of the top ways entrepreneurs are using 3-D printing technology to accomplish their goals:
1. Developing minimum viable products.
For entrepreneurs and startups, this is a significant development. One of the biggest hurdles in starting a venture is developing a minimum viable product that will garner early customers and investors. In the past, product development has been costly, not only because it requires highly-skilled design but also the expense of creating more units is often prohibitive for self-funded startups.
By providing low-cost production at faster speeds, 3-D printing is helping entrepreneurs develop minimum viable products at a much faster rate. This means that when it comes time to raise funds, instead of presenting an idea to investors, entrepreneurs can introduce an actual physical product. If they plan on crowdsourcing through online communities, it’s much easier to garner support with a visual presentation of a real product that crowd funders can get behind.
2. Unique medical solutions for healthcare startups.
A growing number of healthcare startups are using scans and machine learning to improve the medical field by creating detailed maps of the human body. Some of these innovators are also starting to use 3-D printing to model the information they discover to help doctors improve everything from diagnostics to surgery.
“When we look at the healthcare space, MRI and CT scan data is currently presented to physicians and patients in a 2D format. With 3-D printing, models can be made showing organs and tissues as they might appear in the body, which, as you can imagine, has countless benefits for planning treatment,” said Carrington. “Software has been the primary vehicle for making this process applicable for medical professionals.”
By casting 2D information into 3-D models, physicians can better assess the individual body composition of each patient in real dimensions to assist them in determining which treatments are best. As costs decrease due to adoption, these applications will be commonly available for medical practitioners.
3. Improving the quality of education.
Much like doctors can benefit from 3-D models of their patients, students can benefit from 3-D models of various learning concepts. The easier it is to present data in a real world situation, the easier it is to show students the importance of that information.
There are other supplemental uses for education that could help expand into programs or projects that usually take a hit in quality due to lack of funding. Imagine a student being able to 3-D print important parts for a science project, or for a robotics team. Because the cost of 3-D printing is low enough, it would be much easier for schools to provide useful tools to advance student interests.
4. Workflow planning.
A more recent application when it comes to bringing an idea to fruition, is the capacity 3-D printing offers to plan workflow and mitigate wasted time. By creating fast iterations of designs, fields as varied as art and architecture can help create models that will help identify potential bottlenecks or production errors. Using 3-D printing as a predictive tool for workflow planning could significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to get a project to completion.
“Software solutions that make it easier for everyone to make 2D concepts into 3-D designs are breaking down barriers to entry for all kinds of organizations.” Carrington shares. As the industry grows, printers are growing more sophisticated and affordable. Inevitably they will get faster and increase the level of detail that can be delivered on a project. Effective software will continue to be the path of success for 3-D printing solutions, and as more industries adopt the technology, it will become easier and easier to use. As these improvements are made, it will continue to get easier for entrepreneurs to use 3-D printing to problem solve for their businesses.