3D Printing Business Directory

Will 3D Printing Be Based in the USA- Opinion

The industry of 3-D printing is becoming one of the world’s hottest, and Forbes magazine estimated the current $3 billion global market to reach $20 billion by 2015.

It’s expected to knock down barriers in international business. Experts are comparing the innovation to the steam engine, and it’s destined to change the entire manufacturing industry. Countries with manufacturing bases are embracing it and fearing it at the same time.

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3-D printing, turns a blueprint into a product.

Most manufacturing techniques involve removing materials to create an object, by drilling or cutting. Additive manufacturing uses digital technology to add successive layers of a material in different shapes. The process puts layers of plastic or metal (or other compounds) to create a 3-D object, such as a cup, auto part, dental crown, toy or even a gun.

A blueprint can be found online and users can create a product with a few mouse clicks. This technology allows companies and individuals to manufacture short runs of products without much labor, shipping or manufacturing knowledge.

The world will react to this technology, and the trends are clear.

• Governments that protect labor pools will tax the technology.

Many countries adopted protectionist measures to keep citizens employed. These measures were designed to stop foreign competition from selling products in protectionist countries. Nations put tariffs on, for example, Chinese, Japanese and even American goods to keep local factories in business.

But what happens when a local Englishman can simply “print” a part for his car? No stores, import duties, quotas or government revenue. We can bet that 3-D printers will be taxed on purchase and for their use. Much like today, with television taxes in Europe, where citizens pay a government tax to have a TV set in their houses. Owners of 3-D printers might pay one as well.

• Companies that rely on expensive labor will embrace the technology.

In much of Europe, the labor laws make it difficult to fire people, painful to cut wages in hard economic times, impossible to eliminate health insurance, and unacceptable to slash or deny benefits. The social cost of doing business in Western Europe already keeps many manufacturers out of the labor pool. Strong government subsidies often are necessary to lure firms to Europe.

With 3-D printing, an employer can have a machine do a person’s job. The machine doesn’t get sick. The machine doesn’t require five weeks’ vacation. The machine can run 24 hours per day and can be moved to another region or country without disrupting an employee’s family. 3-D printing offers a way to manufacture close to a client’s location as well as market opportunities that aren’t hamstrung by labor costs.

• Global shipping firms will have to get into 3-D printing or suffer grave consequences.

Take the example of shipping a faucet washer to a customer. The customer places the order, a washer is taken out of inventory, and mailed or shipped to the client.

With 3-D printing, the client can go online, get a diagram of the washer and print it at home. If the client doesn’t own a 3-D printer, she can call her local hardware store, which will produce it for her. No shipping company (or shipping clerks) involved. Companies that rely on these shipments for survival will have to change models. They even may need to invest in the 3-D printing technology.

• Large manufacturers will need to get smarter.

To justify their existence, traditional manufacturing companies will need to be cheaper, better, faster, more knowledge-based and more consultative. In the United States, we’ve all seen thousands of rust-belt factories close. Much of Europe’s manufacturing base has been lost to Asia.

We can blame cheap labor (the common excuse) or we can look at the adaptability of the manufacturer that faces competition. Did all those factories embrace cost-saving technology? Were they able to be more instrumental in their client’s businesses? Were delivery times always met?

Many manufacturers offshored production. They concentrated on their competitor instead of their customer.

A new era of smart factories with elaborate client acquisition and retention plans is appearing.

• Branding will be enhanced.

A much misunderstood word, branding is “the emotional relationship between a firm and its clients and prospects.” If the woman above can simply print out a faucet washer, why can’t she print out a different, competitive and less-expensive version? She’ll stick with her original brand only if it makes financial and emotional sense.

Branding services often are pitched as building a brand: the logos, messaging, colors and corporate identity. Less often do we hear about protecting a brand. Branding should be ongoing, fresh, informative and captivating. Firms wishing to protect their brands will spend more money more frequently.

The firms that are adaptable, brand-conscious, global in reach, provide superior customer service and embrace 3-D printing will prosper with this new game-changing technology.

Those that rely on traditional business practices may go the way of the buggy whip.

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