smb-tech-trendsPrinting in 3D to meet your small business needs just got a boost. The UPS Store recently announced its plans to offer 3D printing in its retail stores. The first UPS stores to offer the service will be in San Diego with a nationwide rollout following soon after. UPS isn’t the only place where you can walk in and print in 3D. Makerbot 3D printers are debuting in 18 Microsoft Store retail locations; and if you live in the Denver area, a new retail printing outfit, the 3D Printing Store, opened its second location there. (No doubt we’ll be reading about even more retail 3D printing opportunities.)

Forbes magazine calls 3D printing a potential game changer for small business who now can afford to compete with larger companies when it comes to prototyping products, which can be time consuming and expensive, or one-off manufacturing.  As an example of the latter, Forbes cites MakieLab. The London-based toy manufacturer makes dolls that their customers design themselves.

The possibilities for creating items for sale are endless – think jewelry, tools, smartphone cases and items for the home. If you need a part for your office equipment, you won’t have to order it; you can build it yourself.  The same goes for your customers; if they need a part replacement, you can ‘print one up’ and ship it out. Printing in 3D also will be a boon for architectural and construction firms who can build their own small models of new buildings.

Even if you don’t manufacture or design anything, creating your own small business promotional items is another huge opportunity for 3D printing. You’ll be able to produce volume or limited quantities of special items for a trade show, the launch of a new product or service, or to support a special social media promotion. Plus you can customize the items for marketing to a range of target customers based on demographics.

How 3D printing works

3DFor starters 3D printers are especially unique because as noted they can produce a range of products and all from different materials. You can use plastic, ceramics, rubber, metal or even paper and more. You start with a design created on a desktop computer using 3D modeling software, such as Autodesk; when completed you send the design to the printer.  Much like the way an inkjet printer works, a 3D printer builds layers of the object, one on top of the other, fusing them until you have the three dimensional form you want.

While the original cost of 3D printers was out of the reach of most small business owners and consumers, prices are coming down. Staples now offers the Cube, an easy to use 3D printer for home or office for just $1299.99. It can print objects in 16 different colors.

You may want to do a few trial runs at a retail location before making an investment in a 3D printer for your small business. Whether you 3D print retail or on premise, the technology has the potential to change your business and the possibilities are endless.

Help us get out the vote for 2013 Small Business Influencer Award

Vote-2013-125x125-red - Copy-4It’s an honor to be among the nominees for the 2013 Small Business Influencer Awards. Voting is underway and continues until September 9. You can vote daily until then.  We appreciate your vote!