3D Printing – What can Manufacturers do to Mitigate this Risk?

As of today, 3D printing is possible for varied products using a composition of multiple chemicals and compounds. From basic shapes like cubes and spheres; to shoes; to ceramic mugs and plates; to body parts and bones; to literally houses; and last but not the least, components for rockets being sent to space! reference

Each of these products, require a different type of 3D printer and a different type of chemical composition for the material the product requires. This is the scenario today.

The initial sales will come (already begun) from the likes of people who buy Alexa devices for fun. Most of them don’t “need” it, but “want” it – because it is “fun”. Similarly, 3D printers will be sold so you can print jewellery at home. You could also print your cutlery – spoons, forks, plates, cups, mugs and what not. Then there is food – chocolate in 3D shapes! Price will not be a major factor initially. One good feature is – once you have printed a 3D part, the template soft copy can be uploaded to websites for others to download and re-print.

Once the volumes are high enough, and the prices have reduced to a level that the technology can be made available to the middle class, we will start seeing an impact on various manufacturing industries and their employees. Instead of shopping, people will print products at home. Why would anyone pay a few thousand rupees to buy a dinner set, when it can be printed at home, and you have thousands of templates available online for free?
Most important – 3D printing will be “new, much more personalized and customized, from the comfort of your own home, and more fun; versus going into a crowded mall and searching for hours to find the right product!

Once this day comes, it might be too late for most manufacturers to disrupt the market. So what can manufacturers do to hedge against the upcoming risk of 3D printing?


Whether you like it or not, 3D Printers are coming for your business. Best is to start preparing alternate options. Below is my point of view.

First and foremost option would be to include 3D printing as part of your manufacturing processes. Shoe companies like Adidas and Reebok, and many other manufacturers, are already doing this – using 3D printers to offer personalization and customization.
Initially, you will have to offer limited 3D printed features on top of your existing products, but once the volumes go up, you can provide as much personalization and customization as the market wants and the technology permits. Remember, humans, are mostly, “lazy”. So if people can get the same 3D printed options from the manufacturers for a fractional additional cost, the thought of 3D printing your product at home will not arise so often.

What if you are a manufacturer for the manufacturers – that is, you build machines for the manufacturers that make shoes, cutlery, medical body parts, chocolate, and so on?
Focus on the components, materials and chemicals required by the 3D printing industry – in the context of your customer manufacturer. As the use of 3D printing rises in your customer manufacturers company, you can rise along with them.
For example, you are a supplier of machines used to build shoes. The shoe company is moving towards using 3D printers and material used in 3D printers. Sit down with them, and ask – what can you do to help this shift? And start working on plans to help your customer with newer technology.
Your customer will be super happy as you already have a relationship and trust each other. And among all the stress your customer has due to new tech, any constant and trustworthy option to get new tech, only helps them focus better by reducing their own worries.


Many manufacturers do not realize the importance and criticality of protecting their Intellectual Property (IP). And hence end up ignoring it and wasting the benefits they could have earned by protecting / licensing their IP and selling it online. With the 3D printing industry, a lot of templates will come up online on various websites, offered for free. When such a thing happens, as we have seen with every other new internet technology – there will be a great amount of piracy (music, movies, games, and so on). In order to ensure that you can create and sell your own 3D printing templates online, get ready to make them licensable (copyright or patent them). And start preparing to price and sell them online as the need arises.
For example – Look at the 2D printers market. People pick soft copies of images from licensed websites for some amount of money. And then get them printed via 2D printers, or add them to advertisements and so on.
You could be the one selling your 3D printing templates in the future, and earning money from it.

1 of the other ways your business could survive is if your brand is converted to a niche; is not dependent on volumes, and you are fine to survive on the limited few customers you get. There are pros and cons associated with brand creation. Do read up and start working in this direction to survive the tech future. Do remember, that branding and marketing might not be possible for many of the small industries; and would be an option for those with deeper pockets.

All said and done, the challenge of 3D printing is not going to completely destroy the manufacturing market. It is a risk, and is primarily going to cause big reductions in the wholesale manufacturing industry. There will still be people around who will not use 3D technology – older folks, folks for whom the tech affordability is a concern and prefer to save that little bit of extra money. So for such folks, you can start to cut your own costs and create products priced to be sold at high volumes.


There will be impacts of 3D printing on Logistics (supply chain) companies as well. But that is a discussion for another time, and maybe another person can write better on logistics.

In summary, it is important to prepare for 3D printing technology as it is going to be a big disruptor in the manufacturing markets; and right now is the best time to start working on it.

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