10 Ways to Make Money from 3D Printing

I recently identified 3D printing as one of the 13 Trends That Are Changing the World and compiled 3D Printing Resources for Beginners, but this being a blog about the business of technology, I wanted to create a list of 10 possible businesses that could be created around the 3D printing industry. You can use the STAIR process to figure out which one best suits your past skills, experience, and equipment:

10 Ways to Make Money from 3D Printing

  • Sell raw materials to 3D printer suppliers – 3D printing materials include many types of plastics to higher-end filament like metals, paper, and ceramics. Stainless steel, for example, comes in powder form and can be infused with bronze. Likewise, silver can be mixed with wax. Any business with access to these raw materials stands to benefit from an increase in 3D printing production.
  • Sell 3D printer supplies to 3D printers – Right now most 3D printers use plastic PLA, ABS, or PVA filaments. There are already a large host of printing material suppliers, but it’s still not something you can pick up at your local Wal-Mart…yet. It’s too late to have a first-mover advantage, but you might not want that anyway. Remember, Apple wasn’t the first one to make MP3 players.
  • Make and sell your own 3D printer – Did you know that the Makerbot is open source? At least it was. With the help of some well-laid plans and an Arduino board, you can build your own 3D printer. Make it your own and you can start your own line of 3D printers. Here’s a guide on how to build a 3D printer, but it’s one thing to build them. You’ll also have to learn how to sell them.
  • 3D print objects as a service – 3D printing services like Sculpteo, Shapeways, and Ponoko are showing us all how this is done, but that’s only three and there’s a 99% chance that none of them are local to where you live. While the Internet is great for many things, there is value to having a local printer to print everything from trophies to customized cup lids for restaurants.
  • Scan 3D objects as a service – If you can afford a $230 Kinect for Windows you can start a 3D scanning business. This is what Reconstruct.me does.  In November of 2012 Microsoft announced Kinect for Windows. In that article there is a link to Skanect, which is “3D scanning made easy”. I’m not talking about writing software here, I’m talking about buying a device and using software as a service.
  • Create a marketplace/trading system for 3D printable objects – I thought I was the first to think of this, but of course I was wrong. That’s exactly what Thingiverse is and it’s part of what Shapeways does. If your’e interested in this business model, think niche – “the riches are in the niches” and the sooner you can drive deep down into a niche and setup shop, the more likely you are to succeed.
  • Sell 3D printer technology to oil companies and/or NASA – This is a process of taking an existing product and finding new markets for it. I did this when I suggested that Pebble Watches could be sold to Dentists. By identifying a market segment who could use a product, you’re going vertical and this is similar to driving down into a niche. In this case, the market is remote workers with big pocketbooks.
  • Consult with 3D printer companies on technology and logistics – Not every egghead who comes up with a new 3D printer is going to know how to run a 3D printer business. That’s where consultants and service companies that choose to go niche and vertical with 3D printing companies have a chance to succeed and grow. By serving the needs of a growing industry, your business can benefit too. Everybody wins.
  • Help guide and craft new copyright laws; give legal counsel – While you’re probably going to have to be or know a lawyer or lobbyist, there is definitely a growing need for legal counsel in this newly developing industry. Questions about what is and isn’t able to be licensed and what is or isn’t copyrighted is going to come to a head when people want to expand trademarked product‘s [fan fiction] universes.
  • Help market 3D printers or 3D printable objects – In the same way business professionals can help 3D printing companies manage customer development, build an e-commerce website, and develop organizational habits, they are going to need help learning how to advertise, how to market a product, and how to get more customers. They are going to need to learn SEO, content marketing, and how to build a platform.

Money Multiplier

Erich Stauffer on 3D PrintingIn monetary economics, a money multiplier is a ratio, which is generally believed to be 10 to 1 meaning that any dollar produced, produces 10 more dollars. A similar effect is true for business processes and opportunities. This due to a combination of the adjacent possible of new technologies and from the network effects that happen whenever a new business, process, or industry is born. The implications from this entirely new industry are enormous especially because it is mostly additive. 3D printing doesn’t replace or displace traditional manufacturing, it simply broadens it. Things that could have been created before were not because it didn’t make economic sense, but once people are given the opportunity and resources these new things will be created. It’s similar to how pictures of your food and friends weren’t important enough to carry a camera around for before, but now that your camera and sharing ability is on your phone, companies like Instagram exist and get bought by a billion dollars.