Prototyping for Profits
3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, is no longer some far-fetched idea dreamed up by science fiction enthusiasts. The technology has already gained a lot of ground, and according to Wohlers Report 2014, the market is expected to grow by more than 31 percent per year between 2013 and 2020, eventually producing more than $21 billion in worldwide revenue.
So, how exactly does this technology work? In a nutshell, 3-D printing is a form of rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing. To print a 3-D object, the manufacturer uses a 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) program to create a digital model that gets sliced into thin cross-sections called layers. During the printing process, the 3-D printer builds up successive layers of material until the entire object is completed.
3-D printing has gotten a big push from President Obama over the past few years. In his February 2013 State of the Union address, Obama asked Congress to back a $1 billion plan to support research into 3-D printing as a way to create U.S. manufacturing jobs. And just last December, he became the first president to be immortalized in a 3-D-printed bust, currently on display at the Smithsonian.
There's also something to be said about a technology that attracts industry giants Amazon and Apple. Last summer, Amazon launched its own 3-D printing store boasting the tagline "Shop the Future." Apple, on the other hand, has been quietly filing patents pertaining to 3-D printing.
While this is all fascinating stuff, is there a place for 3-D printing in the print and promotional products industry? Jim Corliss, owner of Braintree Printing, Braintree, Mass., seems to think so. "To some extent, we service the creative world, so 3-D is just another aspect of servicing creative people," he said.
Braintree Printing has the unofficial distinction of being the first printer to purchase a 3-D printer for the purpose of doing jobs. Approximately 16 months ago, the company installed a Stratasys Dimension 1200es unit, an entry-level model costing under $40,000. The machine, Corliss explained, has largely been used to create prototypes for design engineers in the manufacturing world.