I’m reading a brief analysis by Gartner’s Pete Basiliere on how 3D printing could affect business models.

Business models, of course, are critical devices for the successful operation of a business. They define how money is spent and collected based on the creation and distribution of value to clients. Companies without business models are not long for this world.

Basiliere correctly points out that the business models we’ve long been familiar with are a product of the technologies employed by businesses for a century: mass manufacturing and the pursuit of efficiency led to a world where “all products are the same”.

But he points out that 3D printing could shake this concept considerably, saying there are four major impacts on business models:

3D printing enables a shift from designing for ideal manufacturing to manufacturing the ideal design: Not the end of mass manufacturing, but the addition of a new expectation for personalization or customization, even down to the level of a single product instance.

3D printing can have a beneficial impact on finances by cutting production, inventory and manufacturing costs: While many products, if simply made by 3D printing, would actually be more expensive than using traditional technologies, it is sometimes possible for ingenious designers to modify product designs to leverage 3D printing technologies and create more effective products.

3D printing can enable new value propositions that transform existing and facilitate new customer relationships: This one was new to me. The idea is that mass manufacturing meant “this is the product, how many do you want?” That implies a certain type of business relationship – mainly ordering. But if customization through 3D printing is enabled, then the relationship could change to more of a “what are your needs and maybe I can make it for you?” I suspect that almost all manufacturers are not prepared for this type of change.

3D printing can not only deliver immediate benefits to existing manufacturing business models, but also be a disruptive technology that enables radically new business models such as mass customization: Here Basiliere points out that changes to the business model could be advantageous to a company, but also devastating if done by a competitor earlier. This suggests that companies might consider introducing 3D printing faster than simply waiting until forced into it, as they might be out of business by then.

I’d add one more business model effect, and that is the possibility of an entirely new business model based on products previously unattainable. Traditional manufacturing processes have significant constraints that have for decades molded our thought processes of how products can be designed. These constraints largely decided which areas could be addressed by a business, but now the constraints may be partially relieved with 3D printing.

This means a company could, in theory, invent an entirely new product never seen before, simply because it could not be made efficiently.

But those situations will be rare and require considerable out-of-the-box thinking, and perhaps even an injection of new thinkers from other industries and disciplines.

Nevertheless, 3D printing is set to make dents in your business model, either positive or negative.

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Fabbaloo tracks developments in the amazing technology of 3D Printing, publishing news and analysis daily. Whether from a manufacturer’s press release, onsite coverage of events or just some crazy ideas we thought up, our material will keep you up to date.

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