Over the past few years, advances in technology have not only reshaped how certain sectors operate but have also been the main catalyst behind the emergence of several new industries. A perfect example of this is the 3D printing industry. Also known as additive manufacturing, this industry has witnessed staggering growth in recent years and has morphed into a highly competitive market thanks to increased consumer demand for mass customization.
But what exactly are the steps you should take to start your own 3D printing business? What kind of 3D printing startup costs should you expect? And what are some of the keys to running a profitable 3D printing business? Keep reading as we provide detailed answers to these questions and walk you through the process of getting a 3D printing business up and running.
What You Should Know Before Starting a 3D Printing Business
While you don't have to be a 3D printing expert to explore the business opportunities this sector has to offer, you can't just start a 3D printing business without taking some time to gain a baseline understanding of the industry and its various principles, standards, and best practices. In the case of 3D printing, there are a few key areas you should be familiar with before getting started. Below is a brief overview of some of them.
Types of 3D Printers
The first thing you should be aware of is the different 3D printer options that are available to you. As a matter of fact, there is more than one process to produce physical 3D materials. Here are the three most commonly used methods in the 3D printing industry:
- Fused deposition modeling printers (FDM): This is the most popular option for hobbyists and small businesses. FDM machines create physical material by producing successive layers of plastic filament after putting the material through a heating and extruding process.
- Stereolithography (SLA): Machines that use stereolithography employ the same additive process that FDM printers use. However, the main difference between the two is that stereolithography relies on a completely different 3D modeling process - instead of heating and extruding plastic, ultraviolet beams are shone into a vat of photosensitive resin to harden it into a 3D model. This results in smoother and more accurate designs.
- Selective laser sintering (SLS): Much like stereolithography, this 3D printing technology also utilizes a power source to create models out of photosensitive material. But instead of shining ultraviolet beams at a liquid, SLS machines use a laser to melt powdered material. Unlike their FDM and SLA counterparts, SLS machines can 3D print metal objects.
Materials Used for 3D Printing
Now that you are aware of the types of 3D printers that you can use for your business, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the different printing materials that are used to produce a 3D design. The two materials that are needed when using a 3D printer are Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). While the two differ in terms of their composition, both materials become malleable when subjected to pressure, heat, and cold temperatures.
Polylactic Acid is extracted from corn starch and is the go-to option for beginners who are trying to get a handle on 3D printing. Some of the pros of using PLA include the fast cooling time, the material's biodegradability, and the wide range of solid and translucent colors that it comes in. With that being said, there are drawbacks to using PLA for 3D printing. For instance, the material is not tough enough to handle applications that require impact resistance.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a petroleum-based plastic that is typically used for heavy and industrial applications. It is significantly stronger and more flexible than PLA, which allows for the printing of sturdy interlocking pieces with relative ease. More importantly, ABS has a very high melting point, a quality that enables the material to retain its integrity under high heat. The main disadvantages of using ABS are the long cooling time and the excess fume emissions during the printing process.
An important thing to keep in mind when starting a 3D printing company is the safety hazards that are inherent to operating 3D printers. The first potential issue you need to avoid is exposure to heat. As part of extruding and reshaping the plastic, a significant amount of heat is generated and the print bed can get extremely hot. Extra caution is especially needed when dealing with machines that lack enclosures around these sensitive parts.
Fumes also pose a safety concern that you should take into consideration. This is especially the case when operating industrial-grade printers or using Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene for printing. To limit exposure to these emissions, it is highly advisable that you install an exhaust system to redirect fumes away from your working space.
How to Plan Your 3D Printing Business
After developing a good understanding of how 3D printing works, it's time to put your 3D printing business ideas to paper and craft a plan for the launch of your business. Here are the points you need to cover when planning your 3D printing business.
- The type of service you want to provide: As we mentioned above, 3D printing has a wide range of applications. This includes everything from rapid prototyping and traditional manufacturing to tooling and automotive industry design. Identifying the type of services you want to offer will allow you to set the appropriate budget and acquire the right equipment.
- 3D printer cost: The cost of the printer, 3D scanner, and their spare parts are the most significant variables that you need to take into account when starting out. The price of the printer is usually the highest expense for a nascent 3D printing business. High-quality mid-range FDM printers start at around $2,000 whereas the best 3D SLS printers can cost upwards of $100,000. Keep in mind that low-cost printers should be avoided as they are not designed to handle a professional workload. As for the scanner, high-end units can cost up to $50,000.
- Amount of work needed: The amount of work you need to put in will vary depending on your business model and the type of 3D printer you're using. Besides regular work hours, operating and maintaining 3D printers might involve some extra labor. For instance, FDM units require manual support removal and extensive post-processing to achieve a great finish. Conversely, SLA and SLS require simple cleaning and little to no post-processing.
Actions to Start Your 3D Printing Business
Once you've mapped out what you want to do, the next step is taking action. The sections below will outline the first steps you should take when starting your own business.
Form Your Business
Like any business, your 3D printing venture should start by forming a legal entity and opening a business bank account. Both steps are integral to separating your personal assets and finances from those of your business. Most 3D printing businesses use the limited liability company (LLC) structure due to the numerous advantages that it offers to entrepreneurs.
First, LLCs come with full personal liability protection, which means your personal assets are protected in case you default on your debt or if you're facing a lawsuit. The other noteworthy benefit of opting for an LLC is the flexible tax structure - an LLC affords entrepreneurs the luxury of easily implementing the tax strategies that are tailored to their situation and needs.
The next thing you need to take care of is the licensing requirements. The types of permits and licenses that are required for 3D printing businesses vary depending on your jurisdiction. Make sure to check your state, city, and county regulations to get an idea of which permits and licenses you should obtain.
Market Your 3D Printing Business
As a new business owner, you have to allocate a significant portion of your time and effort to marketing your 3D printing services. While there are several avenues you can explore when advertising your business, social media is by far the most effective way to reach your target demographic.
Instagram is a particularly powerful tool for 3D printing business owners. On top of boasting the highest engagement rate of any social media network, Instagram provides you with a great visual platform to showcase the quality of new products. Moreover, accounts with high-quality content and unique captions can quickly generate a high amount of traffic thanks to a combination of organic engagement, effective hashtag use, and paid promotion.
Running Your 3D Printing Business
Running a successful 3D printing business is predicated on using a streamlined system that helps you stay on top of your finances and keep track of all the movements associated with day-to-day activity. An invoicing system is one tool that can help you achieve this.
Invoicing systems save you a lot of time and effort by enabling you to automate all invoicing tasks. A good example of such a system is Skynova's invoice template. This convenient invoicing solution allows you to generate printable and downloadable invoices by simply filling out a template.
Manage Your 3D Printing Business With Skynova
The last thing you need to do when running a new 3D printing business is get caught up in the weeds of dealing with daily administrative and financial tasks. Skynova's accounting software and software products help you avoid this by handling all financial aspects of your business, allowing you to dedicate your time to revenue-generating activities and exploring growth opportunities.