How 3-D printing trends drive sustainability outcomes

How 3-D printing trends drive sustainability outcomes

3D printer photo by Babich Alexander via Shutterstock

Emerging markets generate a desire for large companies to integrate new technologies to scope out new business models, scenarios and plans. Within this context, I propose four major scenarios for large companies to offer 3D printing and scanning technologies within their business ecosystem.

In terms of sustainability, this is an important consideration. While 3D printing isn't necessarily a greener option, it can be in certain circumstances, depending on details such as setup and materials used. Some companies are already using 3D printing in green ways, including Kor Ecologic, which relies on the technology to make a hybrid vehicle called Urbee.

New business models, outlined below, are emerging, transforming retailers into manufacturers and service providers, offering customized products at scale, and reconfiguring supply chain and logistics into new business entities heretofore unseen and into others we've yet to see. As a primer, before you read on, be sure to read the impacts of 3D printing to corporations, then read the five roles large companies can play in this market.

3D printing requires business model change 

The big trend is that people and businesses are becoming empowered by new technologies for funding, design, modeling, manufacturing and shipping goods on demand. While most goods currently are simple items, technology will continue to advance, demanding major shifts in today's manufacturing ecosystem.

• The game shifts when anyone can manufacture goods. First of all, my mom isn't ready for 3D printing. I've taken classes at TechShop, and I was stunned by the complexities involved. However, 3D printing as a service (provided by companies including Shapeways) enables anyone to produce 3D goods without configuring printers or filaments and dealing with 3D files. Production, even on a limited scale, starts to become democratized.

 New services emerge for customized products. 3D printing isn't just about printing goods on demand or at a local level. It also allows people to print out customized products for their own lives, bodies and homes. Expect new design services to emerge to produce custom-fit products for bodies. In fact, they already exist. A logical starting point is jewelry, then practical gadgets, mechanical devices, consumer electronics and automotive components.

 Logistics, supply chain and shipping are affected. With goods being produced at local levels rather than at production facilities, in country or offshore, supply chains are disrupted as 3D printing takes global hold. With that said, China is already investing in 3D printing, according to USA Today.

Thanks to Ben Simon-Thomas and Scott McGregor from SoundFit, a 3D scanning provider who fleshed out the diagram with me. This story first appeared at 3D printer photo by Babich Alexander via Shutterstock.