With Mercedes-Benz announcing last year that it is now selling 3D printed spare parts for its cargo trucks, 3D printing is gaining momentum as a commercial strategy for large-scale manufacturers.
But what does 3D printing mean for non-enterprise businesses and entrepreneurs? Can 3D printing really offer ordinary people the chance to change their lives?
As the technology becomes more widely available, 3D printing is set to revolutionize the home business world. 3D printing enables people to embrace the world of product design and run manufacturing, ecommerce, and design businesses from the comfort of their own homes.
Interested? Let’s explore how you can 3D print your own products and sell them online in a world where 3D printing is set to fundamentally change eCommerce.
Looking to design and sell a 3D product for a community project? Check out our previous post on how you could get yourself some free promotion.
3D Printing and the eCommerce Opportunity
“When I first discovered 3D printing several years ago, I instantly knew it was magical. My mind was blown by the technology: an almost infinite amount of shapes can be “grown,” layer by layer, just by using a printer. This is going to be disruptive, I knew. It would empower entrepreneurs, freeing them from the constraints of traditional manufacturing.” (Brian Palacios).
3D printing is an amazingly democratic technology: it works for the small time business owner, as well as the enterprise company. It presents a unique opportunity to cut out ‘the middlemen’ like manufacturers, letting business owners go straight to the source and take control of the product design progress. Instead of huge manufacturing machinery, business owners only need 3D printing facilities or 3D printers to run their business.
Using automation and easy personalization, 3D printing is able to offer people cheaper and better products, as well as products that are completely custom and unique. 3D printing allows for easy on-demand commerce: a more streamlined business model that gets rid of the traditional problems of holding inventory and stock.
3D Print and Sell Product Designs
In order to make the most of 3D printing, you need a novel idea or product that leverages 3D printing in a strategic or creative way. Think about how printing your product could potentially disrupt an industry or offer consumers a better way to do something. Product design is an art form, so spend time refining your ideas and designs.
New to design? Start by learning from free Computer Animated Design (CAD) tools such as Blender, Sculptris, TinkerCAD, Fusion 360, Onshape or SelfCAD. You’d be surprised by how quickly and easily you can teach yourself and conjure a professional-looking design after just a few tutorials. By making use of free online resources and putting the time in to teach yourself, you can create customizable designs or moving parts to sell online.
Remember: not all products are meant to look ‘good’ — some are practical solutions to common problems.
Here are some high-demand product niches with reasonably healthy profit margins that are easy to fulfill using a 3D printer:
- Nerf gun accessories
- Customized shoes and flipflops
- Architectural models
- Movie-style props and memorabilia
- Drone accessories, such as camera holders
- Decorative ornaments and vases
Give yourself the means to create a multitude of different 3D printed products – that way, you can stock new products as soon as you notice a gap in the market, or when a particularly high-demand product goes out of stock on Amazon or Ebay.
Importance of Market & Value Research
In order to create and sell successful products, you need to understand the mindset of your target audience. Get to the crux of what makes them tick by identifying as much as you can about their aspirations, desires, and challenges. You need to get into the mindset of a particular demographic in order to create something they’ll want to buy. Do market research on platforms like Quora, niche forums, reddit, social media, and blogs to get an unvarnished view into their world.
If you’re looking to get more precise data, use Google Trends and conduct your own keyword research to find out exactly what your customers are searching for online. and UberSuggest.io are two fantastic (free) tools. The closer you can get your product offering to what your target audience is actually searching for, the better.
Top tip: Speak to people in the industry to find out what solutions and products they’ve been waiting for, and see whether you can help solve their problems.
Finding your markets
Setting up your own online store is a great way to get your business off the ground and grant you greater autonomy over the look, feel, and functionality of your business. But as well as your own store, you should get your products and designs in front of the 3D printing community. By leveraging the power of an existing audience, you can fast-track product sales and business growth.
Whether you print the products yourself, or leave that to a 3D printing and fulfilment company, make sure that you have healthy margins and remain financially in control. Don’t get so carried away by an idea that you forget to make some money out of it!
Here are some popular ecommerce options to consider:
- I.Materialise 3D print store
- Shapeways (the ‘Amazon’ of 3D printing)
- Marketplaces like Etsy, Ebay & Amazon are good for spare parts, memorabilia, and B2C goods
- WordPress has loads of free ecommerce themes
- Shopify has a purpose-built online store that scales from entrepreneur to enterprise.
The Best eCommerce Advice?
Our best advice to get started is simply stated. Embrace the multi-channel approach and sell wherever and whenever you can. Make the most of seasonal trends and spikes in consumer interest, and diversify your sales platforms to stay ahead of the competition.
Leverage the practical and technological advantages of 3D printing, and create a business that’s as future-proof asconception to production, the key is to be adaptable and consistently research your niche market to stay ahead of the curve, providing products that your target audience wants before other manufacturers do!
Setting up your own store to sell 3D products? Tell us what you’re up to in the comments.