What is 3D printing?

If you aren’t familiar with 3D printing, it is a way to create 3-dimensional objects by using a computer with software to design an object, and then letting the software build the object in the 3D printer. A 3D printer isn’t anything like a conventional printer if you’re wondering. It may hook up to a computer similarly, but it has nothing to do with paper. It is a robot that generally builds objects out of plastics, different types of rubber, and even metal alloys. Just about any object can created as long as it isn’t too big for the printer and there is an idea for it.

How does it work?

After designing the object on a computer, the printer is told the directions on how to build the object. The printer is made up of a flat platform for building on, a device that deposits the material, and a mechanism that moves that device in any direction to deposit the material exactly where it is needed. Objects are built by building the object up layer by layer until it is complete.

Why is 3D printing great for prototyping?

Unlike other methods of designing an object and turning it into a physical prototype, 3D printing can be done cheaper and much faster. For example, a prototype may have only been possible to make by molding before 3D printing. Molding itself may be a fast process once there is a finished mold, but the process of mold making takes time, money, and extra steps. Also, once the mold is made, variations and modifications of the prototype can’t be made without making more molds. With 3D printing there are fewer steps, and variations of the prototype can be made simply by modifying the design file and then printing another prototype.

How is 3D printing useful to entrepreneurs?

From the time that 3D printing was invented a in 1984 till today, the cost of printers have dropped greatly to the point that consumer level ones can be bought for only a few hundred dollars. Ones that print in greater detail, or are able to print big objects can cost thousands, but for an entrepreneur there are times when a cheap printer might help to cheaply bring an idea into being a physical object you can hold and use for pitching a product to investors. To an investor, handling a physical object may be what allows them to capture your vision and believe in it. Before 3D printing, creating the prototype may have been out of the budget, limiting the product pitch to pictures and the description of the pitcher. This technology might not be for every entrepreneur, but in the right circumstances it may open doors to entrepreneurs that were unavailable less than a decade ago. It may get your product past the investment needed to take it to production.