Is 3D Printing Good For Entrepreneurship?

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM


If you follow the news you've probably heard about the growing prevalence of 3D printing.  This technology, which allows manufacturers to create solid objects from a digital template, has actually been around since 1984,  but started to really take off in terms of popularity around the start of the 21st century. 

More recently, 3D printing once again made headlines when a YouTube video surfaced of an engineer firing what he claimed was the first successfully created 3D gun.  This creation, which was dubbed "The Liberator," made waves across the internet for both it's ingenuity and for the gun regulation related issues it poses. 

Regardless of how you feel about the potential uses of 3D printing, what's indisputable is that the technology is here, and it's here to stay.  And with the costs associated with 3D printing rapidly on the decline, it begs and interesting question regarding how it might effect the world of entrepreneurship.  

As it currently stands, a quick Google search reveals that someone can pick up a 3D printer for anywhere from about $300-$20,000.  This is obviously  a rather large price range, so available features on said printers vary somewhat dramatically.  If you're willing to invest approximately $2,000 you could pick up a unit capable of printing basic plastic objects.   For someone looking to open up a small business, this investment is rather minuscule as it pertains to the typical startup costs in the manufacturing sector.  

In the short-term this is great news for entrepreneurs.  It opens up a whole new world of business opportunities previously set aside solely for people with capital to invest in expensive tooling equipment.   I mean, imagine the future possibilities.  Want to start up a business selling Barbie style dolls? No problem.  Drop a couple grand on a 3D printer, open up an ebay store, and wham, bam, you're on your way!  

That being said, there is also a potential downside to 3D printing for entrepreneurs.  This new technology currently provides the perfect level of financial investment for someone looking to take a low level business risk, but what happens when 3D printing inevitably evolves to a universally accessible technology found in home all across the country?  Rather than needing to go through the hassle of ordering from someone else, people will simply download a template and print whatever they desire from the comfort of home.  

All in all, 3D printing creates the perfect storm of a game changing technology that could both help, and hurt, the small business entrepreneur in the long run.  So, with that said, what do you think? Is 3D printing good for entreprneurs?