According to statistics from the Wholer’s report on the 3D printing industry, forecasts have shown that the industry has experienced a constant annual growth of 25% since 2010 and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This has led many to highlight its importance as well as awaited the industry in shedding the image of additive manufacturing been just a ‘passing technological fad’. Today, a large percentage of the professional industries available to mankind has integrated 3D printing into their manufacturing processes in one way or the other.
Currently, there are many vibrant 3D manufacturing communities which have active participants trying to elevate the use of the 3D printers and CNC machines by developing new printing techniques, manufacturing materials and machines with the aim of making previously unattainable tasks possible. Which takes us to the topic of the day; building a 3D printing ecosystem for public or private use. For those who do not know what these ecosystems are, I am guessing the term 3D hubs or creation/collaborative centers should ring a bell. These are platforms where creators can come together to share ideas, and develop prototypes for them. Therefore, if you are a manufacturing enthusiast interested in setting up your own ecosystem for financial gains or to elevate the industry, here are the five most important things to consider:
Defining What Your Ecosystem Intends to Achieve
This first consideration is basically writing a business plan to outline everything you have in mind. And as with all business plans, you must define the direction of your hub—either as a hub for outsourcing manufacturing projects or as a learning centre—in order to know the capital investments your plan will require.
To successfully do this, a competitive analysis must be conducted to access the competition as well as the available market out there for manufacturing. For example, it is important to note that Asia boasts of the largest numbers of hubs and rapid prototyping firms across the globe. Therefore, if pursuing the commercial application of 3D manufacturing, it might be more economical to seek clients and outsource their prototyping needs to Chinese rapid prototyping companies—such as Wayken—rather than kick-starting yours from scratch. This will definitely save you more money and time in the long run.
Analysing the Tools and Machines for Your Hub
There are a plethora of rapid prototyping machines out there that can be used in industrial design and 3D printers, CNC prototyping machines etc. are a couple you will have to consider. So how should you go about choosing the perfect machines? Here again, the types of projects you intend to execute have a role to play and the answers to these questions below should determine your choice:
- Will rapid prototyping and mass-production be the focus?
- What are the dimensions of the 3D objects to be produced?
- How detailed will the projects be?
The first question provides you with a window to access if rapid prototyping or iterative manufacturing processes will form the core of your hub’s activities. If the former—rapid prototyping—happens to be the case, then machines for CNC prototyping should be considered while for iterative manufacturing, 3D printing might be the way to go. Consequently, you can choose to stock up on hybrid 3D printers with CNC machining capabilities.
Determining Your Customer Base
Everyone goes into business to turn a profit. For commercial rapid prototyping hubs, this profit is generally measured in currency and the amount of money maid while for teaching centers, profit is measured by the number of participants as well as patented ideas developed in them.
The recent rate at which investors participate in fundraising exercises in the 3D manufacturing community highlights the ample opportunities the market has to offer. Therefore, the responsibility of defining what your ecosystem is about must also take into consideration the available customers in your locality. Successful examples such as this Michigan based CNC prototyping firm abound due to its need to expand its services to cater to the large demands from its customer base.
What Social Impact will your Hub have in Society?
In the age of corporate and social responsibility, starting a rapid prototyping hub must also take into consideration its impact to your immediate surroundings and society as a whole. Therefore, of you are partial to green living and recycling, you must also take this into consideration when choosing the prototyping machine for your hub, the type of materials it works with as well as its energy source.
Choosing a social mission close to your heart will also play an important role in helping you keep track of set resolutions as well as ensure your manufacturing process follow these set mission statement.
Rapid prototyping techniques—such as 3D printing and CNC prototyping—are here to stay and there are diverse ways businesses and 3D technology enthusiasts can take advantage of them to earn a living as well as support our communities. So if you are interested in building your own ecosystem, now is the time to take that gigantic leap while we pray that the odds forever remain in your favor.