3D printing offers amazing opportunities

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Written by Beth Gitlin, Ask a Business Expert article that originally appeared in FLORIDA TODAY on March 13, 2014

In January, Founders Forum, an educational and networking organization for entrepreneurs in Brevard County, featured an evening networking event entitled “A Whole New Game — Business Opportunities in 3D Printing.” It was a fantastic opportunity for business owners in our community to learn about 3D printing and the opportunities that they will be able to take advantage of with the lowering costs and rising use of this technology by small and medium sized business owners.

What is 3D printing? It is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of any type of shape from a digital model. It is achieved by using an additive process in which a predetermined plan is developed using computer software, the software is sent to the 3D printer and the computer directs the 3D printer to add each new layer as a precise cross-section of the final object.

It is different from traditional machining techniques which usually rely on the removal of material using methods such as cutting or drilling.

Why should you learn about 3D printing? This technology started as a way to build fast prototypes, but now it is being used to create products for the medical, dental, aerospace and automotive industries. It has most recently crossed over into toy and furniture manufacturing as well as art and fashion.

Analysts expect 3D printers to have the biggest impact on consumer products, industrial and manufacturing industries. Enterprise spending on 3D printing in 2013 was estimated at $325 million and consumer spending was estimated at $87 million, however, in 2014 the numbers are estimated to increase to $536 million and $133 million, respectively.

The bottom line is that you should research the opportunities in how you can make the best use of 3D printing for your business and also understand ways that this new technology could possibly be a disruptor for your business.

How can you learn more about 3D printing? First, you can visit websites like www.shapeways.com and www.ponoko.com, where you can buy and sell 3D printed items. Additionally, www.imaterialize.com can help you turn your ideas into 3D printed designs. Locally, you can visit Rapid Prototyping Services in Satellite Beach or The Knowledge Exchange in Palm Bay to meet with local small business owners using 3D printing services.

Finally, join a meet up group such as Melbourne Maker Space (www.meetup.com/ Melbourne-Makerspace-Florida-USA/) to share with others in the community who are interested in expanding their skills in 3D printing.

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