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  • Writer's pictureM Aerospace RTC

How does additive manufacturing drive SMEs?

The 3D printing industry began more than 30 years ago, however, due to the high costs of machinery and the design restrictions that were implicit at the time, it took many years for the industry to become popular. Currently, 3D printing is an indispensable resource in the world of engineering, allowing rapid prototyping and the manufacture of experimental parts with lower production costs than those obtained with traditional processes.

In addition, in times of pandemic, the great advantage of 3D printing production times and the versatility of designs and materials for the protective equipment used by health personnel was demonstrated. Currently, 7 out of 10 healthcare professionals rely on 3D printing to transform their sector.

3D printing allows the user to create complex designs, customize each product, keep production costs low, perform rapid prototyping, as well as manufacture final products. Another of the great advantages of additive manufacturing is that it reduces the “scrap” that is commonly generated in manufacturing by traditional methods. In addition, in certain materials, the little waste generated can be recycled and reused.

As has been seen, 3D printing is one of the most promising technologies with the greatest economic impact that has been presented at the moment, this opens up a world of possibilities for companies in all sectors. Additive manufacturing is mostly promoted in the engineering and medical sector, however, it adapts to any type of market, which is why this sector has been recognized by SMEs, who recognize the advantages of printing 3D and bet on its growth in the economic sector.

According to recent studies, 44% of SMEs already use 3D printing technology and a further 30% are considering investing in the coming years, either due to the reduction of costs of storage, transportation or materials, for the versatility in the design and customization of the product or for the investigation of new manufacturing techniques. In addition, this technology allows the company to adapt to changing market demand.

As mentioned above, the opportunities for SMEs in the additive manufacturing sector are very large, but can be summarized in 3 main areas where this sector is profitable and makes work easier

1. Design and manufacturing/printing: Hardware, software and material. Product design could be completely in-house or outsourced. The machinery used can be handled by inexperienced users with the use of manuals.

2. Supply and service: Business relations with the companies in charge of transporting the printers, material and finished product are included. Courses for specialization in the use of printers may also be included.

3. Production: Constant manufacturing on demand, ease of product change without the need to adapt new molds or use different tools for each part.

For SMEs, the decision to invest capital in a new technology is not always an easy one. Although additive manufacturing has become quite popular in recent years and has enormous production advantages over other technologies, it is a relatively new element in the market, mostly in Mexico and Latin American countries, which can generate a feeling of mistrust for the investor or owner.

However, the benefits of investing in 3D printing technology come with such good references that it is very difficult to avoid thinking about it. When starting a business or renewing an existing one, the main points that any investor should think about are: investment, training and market.

The initial investment in additive manufacturing makes the idea of ​​investing even more attractive: the cost of quality 3D printers keeps falling in the market due to the wide variety of suppliers. Today it is very easy to find competitive models for home use at prices below four figures. In addition, 3D printing allows the independence of businesses in terms of intermediaries and/or third countries such as China.

It is also well known that this technology avoids the need for a stock, which allows a better use of space and/or avoids rental costs or conditioning of places to store the stock. This technology allows manufacturing on demand, in addition to the customization of each piece without the need for expenses and/or setbacks due to having to change tools or create molds.

As a last point on investment, 3D printing reduces transportation costs by allowing local manufacturing. The material for the printers can be found with various providers on the internet that offer free shipping over a certain amount, with faster and more efficient waiting times due to the nature of the market.

Continuing with the next point: training. The knowledge required for the management of the different printers can be obtained through videos or courses that are easily on the internet, either on the direct website of the company that provides the printer or through the various course pages that exist; You can even find comprehensive tutorials on free sites like YouTube.

In addition, if a more specialized certification is desired, there are institutions with the appropriate training to certify users in different areas of 3D printing oriented to design, optimization or the printing itself, which could give more confidence to the buyer, as well as allow the company to provide higher quality work.

Lastly, the market. This point is one of the simplest since the popularity of the additive manufacturing market is exactly what has led us to write about it. The production versatility of a single printer is impressive and far greater than almost any other existing tool at the moment, which allows this technology to cover almost any market, from engineering to fashion to gastronomy.

There are currently thousands of start-up companies around the world with completely different approaches, there is, for example, the printer that manufactures houses in Spain by the company Be More 3D, which began as a project to print plastic key rings by young people just graduates of a bachelor's degree. Once the business started, the young people saw an opportunity, and with the help of engineers they built a 3D printer that was capable of printing optimally for the construction of houses, they obtained financing and now they have printed their first house in Spain.

Looking for local examples, we can find Prothesia, a Mexican enterprise dedicated to the 3D manufacturing of low-cost prostheses and orthoses, created by students of Mechatronics Engineering at the Tecnológico de Monterrey. They found a methodology that reduces the cost of the prosthesis by 50%, as well as the manufacturing time, this process can usually take up to 30 days in a traditional way, they can carry it out in a period of 48 hours.

Finally, we can also talk about the Mexican start-up 3D Factory MX, where university and postgraduate students carry out the printing of objects that can range from cell phone protectors to models of architectural designs. This company has even printed prototypes for other start-ups in the Mexican market. The most impressive thing about this startup is that it prints from a printer that the members built themselves.

In this way we can observe the versatility that exists in the additive manufacturing market. This market adapts to the vision of each company according to the interests of the user, it is a matter of wandering around the net a bit to find the inspiring stories of the people who decided to start in this business, some like Be More 3D who changed completely the turn of your company and your life in the industry, or those like 3D Factory MX who just want a business that helps at a national level and provides financial support to complete their studies.

Something very important to take into consideration when starting a business, both in 3D printing and in any other line of business, is knowing your customers. Income in a 3D printing business can come from the sale of services, modeling, scanning, equipment rental or the sale of printers or supplies.

In Mexico, the main customers at the industrial level are the automotive, aerospace and dental industries, mainly through the printing of molds and tools. On the other hand, for direct sales to users, great income can be found in areas such as jewelry, architecture, chocolate and student, as well as personalized products for the general public such as cell phone covers, key chains and personal items.

Another way to enter the additive manufacturing business without having to invest in a 3D printer is through services such as modeling parts for later printing or a 3D scanning service to recreate objects in the form of a digital file. Maintenance and repair service is also a viable business idea in places where there are 3D printing establishments, since the calibration of the equipment and the replacement of printer parts can be a complicated task for some users.

Finally, for those with ease of speech, knowledge and experience, there is the option of offering 3D printing courses, of course, this requires investment in time to learn everything necessary to be able to teach others. With the growth of tutorial platforms on the internet, it is now much easier to be a teacher on the topics that you are passionate about.

We hope that the information presented inspires you to start planning your business and its investment today. If you have more questions about it, do not hesitate to contact us on our main page or through our social networks.

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