Counselor Commentary: The Intrigue Of 3D Printing

Don't Be The Biz Owner Who Got Into The Game Too Late

Dave VagnoniYou’ve probably heard the 3D printing skeptics – hey, I’ve been one myself. We’ve been saying things like: “3D printing is years away. Plus, it takes days to print anything half decent. Oh, and by the way, you need an engineering degree to operate one of those contraptions anyway.”  Well, most of that was true – but times are changing, quickly. In fact, 3D printing technology is progressing much faster than was forecast.  

For example, this week Lowe’s became the third major U.S. brand (following Staples and UPS) to offer 3D printing services. Lowe’s, though, is unveiling a much easier to use kiosk, letting shoppers print home-improvement products in almost any material – from plastics to hard metals. Customers can also bring in items to have a printer replicate them. Lowe’s is providing the technology with the help of a California firm called Authentise.

“Until now, it’s been hard for the average consumer to benefit from this technology because of the cost and complexity,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “Our partnership with Authentise enabled us to rapidly develop 3D solutions in a way that is core to home improvement.”

Now, as much as I like home improvement (my wife is laughing), I like marketing much more. If 3D printers can suddenly be rigged to create fancy sconces and doorknobs, imagine what kind of promotional items they can produce. From bobbleheads to balls, from drinkware to desk accessories – the possibilities would be endless. And sector number one to target would be the live events market. If customized items could be made in minutes at a concert, a fair, or a ballgame, brands would be foolish to not embrace that kind of real-time and keepsake advertising.  

Certainly, it would make sense for larger industry companies to explore partnering with 3D printing startups. If printers could eventually reduce the reliance on China, the cost savings would be tremendous. Smaller firms, though, should be invested in this conversation, too. Distributors that are losing out to e-commerce firms could level the playing field a bit, especially in terms of turnaround time.

There are those in the industry who worry that 3D printing will upset traditional models and ultimately cut into margins. I won’t dispute that notion. My logic, however, is this: Rather than trying to stop the freight train, hop on board. Embrace entrepreneurial spirit instead of standing by unwritten rules. Tech companies seem to be on the cusp of making 3D printers incredible tools. Don’t be the business owner who got into the game too late.