Creating the 3D Printing Supply Chain

What will be the next really big business opportunity? I wrote recently about 3D printers. If you already own an inkjet or laser printer, you know how aggravating and expensive it is to operate. I do a lot of printing, and I always make sure I have extra cartridges close at hand. It is not by accident that I have spent more money for ink than I paid for my printer. In fact, I have paid for another laptop in ink costs. Is that Epson I hear in the background laughing all the way to the bank?

I was around when the first {complink 2470|IBM Corp.} Selectric and daisy wheel printers hit the market. Back then, the daisy wheels would have to be replaced periodically, and you had to have an arsenal of them, since each supported only one font type. Replacing ribbons for the Selectric was a constant preoccupation, as well. The medium may have changed over the years, but the business strategy is just the same.

When I bought my last computer, the manufacturer threw in an inkjet printer for free. How could it do that? What if everybody got a printer for free? Oh, yeah, I get it. HP printer cartridges don't work with Brother cartridges. I have to buy Epson ink cartridges from Epson. If I bought a third-party cartridge, my Epson could be in deep dim sum. I can't take that chance, so I am well on my way to paying the equivalent price for another laptop.

The next goose that lays the golden egg is the 3D printer and all the supplies required to make the various parts, thus requiring an even greater variety of materials. Imagine, in the not-too-distant future, some form of 3D printer in every home that now has an inkjet. I sign on to Amazon and download a computer-aided design program for a gizmo with moving parts. The program loads into my 3D printer, and the onboard display says “Insert DuPont cartridge 23478 into cartridge well 1 and press OK. Insert Dow cartridge 57965 into well 2 and press OK. Insert Composite Pack 345 into Tank 1 and press OK. Verify color selections for subpart 1, 2, 3, and 4 and press Start.” The next message tells you to return in 15 minutes to retrieve your finished product.

By the way, the kind people at DuPont have given you the 3D printer with your first five-cartridge order. That is golden egg opportunity No. 1.

At the professional level, I might run a 3D printing house for big stuff with lots of moving parts that are specifically formulated for the operating conditions they will experience during their normal lifetime. My inventory shelves are stocked with bin after bin of raw materials and various strengthening composites. Much like a pharmacist, I have all the elemental ingredients. All my bins have metered feed lines with flow sensors on the output ports.

My entire inventory is online. A numerically controlled machine interface allows me to take a long list of ingredients and select them in a batch mode where volume and parts per million mixtures can be aggregated into a central cartridge for a recipe specified by the manufacturer or designer for the part or assembly fabrication. Since material requirements vary, the computer selects the exact time the mixture is to be adjusted or an additional cartridge is to be brought online.

At present, there is one plastics manufacturer with more than 100 selectable recipes for 3D printer materials, but it is only a matter of time before that list expands to thousands of mixtures. Automatic, on-the-fly formulations will be the most affordable alternative to stocking thousands of bins with slightly different compositions. With just a few more mental twists and turns, we can create additional business opportunities for the materials support functions that will soon be required for 3D printing operations.

Home kits are already available online. As with any new technology, the early adopters are settling for a lot less than they will have to in just a few short years. Design your own dinnerware, table, and place settings today, and soon everything now made in plastic will be available in downloadable form and as easily accessible as a book or a song.

Be the first on your block to get a free — that's right, I said free — 3D printer today. We will throw in your first (partially filled) cartridge at no additional cost. Hey, kids, tell your mom and dad to get you started with your first project today. That's right, we will also send you, at no additional cost, an entire dinosaur farm with 13 life-like figures, complete with your own recycler for grinding those little critters up and making a whole new set. This offer expires in 10 days. Software not included. This set requires two No. 23567 cartridges. Additional cartridges not included.

Now I have only one question for you. How do you like your eggs — golden?

21 comments on “Creating the 3D Printing Supply Chain

  1. Apocaloptimist
    August 17, 2012

    What is the name of the plastics manufacturer with more than 100 selectable recipes for 3D printing materials?

  2. _hm
    August 19, 2012

    For 3D printer material can be interchnageable or other other material provider can easily provide alternate source of material and 3D printer will also work fine. Also, 3D priner may be for concept design and standard material may be good enough. 3D printer may not face dilemma similar to injet and laser printers.



  3. Taimoor Zubar
    August 20, 2012

    @_hm: I didn't know that you could use interchangeable material with 3D printers. Sounds like a really useful feature. It can give you an idea about the material strength of your 3D model as well. Any idea what kinds of materials are supported by most printers?

  4. Wale Bakare
    August 20, 2012

    >>3D printer may not face dilemma similar to injet and laser printers.>>

    How do you think consumers would react to this? As the piece captioned, it would be a really nice opportunity lies in supply chain sector if 3D printing eventually matured.

  5. bolaji ojo
    August 20, 2012

    Douglas, I've read about the 3D printer but I have never seen one or understand exactly how it operates. Have you and what do they look like? What's the progression of the technology, the size and cost of the equipment?

  6. bolaji ojo
    August 20, 2012

    Wale, It's likely to turn the supply chain on its head. Some companies will benefit while others will see a decline in operations. It's how disruptive technologies work!

  7. Houngbo_Hospice
    August 20, 2012


    Neither do I. My impression is that a 3D printer will not likely become a household device.

  8. Houngbo_Hospice
    August 20, 2012


    Most of us won't probably need  a 3D printer and I doubt that its adoption will be mainstream. I will certainly become an industry tool rather than a home or an office tool.

  9. Susan Fourtané
    August 21, 2012


    “My impression is that a 3D printer will not likely become a household device.”

    For now. All points out that 3D printers will become more common in a regular office and a household sooner than we think. 3D printers are already being used in different areas, not only manufacturing. 


  10. ahdand
    August 21, 2012

    Yes true. It will certainly be a tool which will be used in the enterprise level. I dont think home users will be much interested in it and even if they do the cost factor will make their interest go away 🙂

  11. Houngbo_Hospice
    August 21, 2012


    We will see. The 3D printer has been around for a while now, but I can't really figure out what I can do with it in my house or my office right now. I am not sure if anyone on the site has ever used it either. Can someone share their experience with the 3D printer?

  12. Susan Fourtané
    August 21, 2012


    In your house you could have one in the kitchen, for example. I can't find the article now, but 3D-printed food is something that has reached the kitchen of some famous chefs. 🙂 


  13. Houngbo_Hospice
    August 21, 2012


    I didn't know that it can be used in the kitchen. But I am not that much of a kichen guy. But it is good to know.


  14. Susan Fourtané
    August 21, 2012


    Yes, yes, it can. And did I tell you about the 3D-printed bones and organs for transplant? It's being done already. A woman in her eighties got a 3D-printed jaw. 


  15. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 21, 2012

    With meat being prepared using 3D printer ( see link–3D-printed-meat-)

    tomorrows kitchens are sure to have the 3D printer as one of the gadgets like the microwave oven and the fridge.

    This concept of 3D recipes opens up a whole new business domain for entrepreneurs.

  16. dalexander
    August 21, 2012

    Like Bolaji said, this is a disruptive technology. Printers and supplies with home kit for simple CAD will be a big deal. You know there will be DIY costume jewelry, doll furniture, picnic sets, mugs, and the list goes on and on. The Supply chain and store inventories will be altered as many household items will be printed at home. Need a new spatula? Print it Dano!

  17. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 21, 2012

    Like many people, my biggest complaint about printers is the cartridges. What a racket! Taking a loss on hardware is a common enough strategy, but I still can't see how printers can be given away for free. The best case scenario: disposable printers. When something goes wrong with one, it isn't even worth the trip to Best Buy. Anyway, imagine if the materials are not ink but plastic, silicon or some other substance, then think of all the things that could go wrong. That's the time to get into the printer repair business…

  18. bolaji ojo
    August 23, 2012

    @Susan, It's being speculated if you get a printer that's big enough you might even print your own country and all the little people to populate it. Imagine the possibilities: 3D oceans, 3D rain (on-demand), 3D food, 3D gasoline and 3D plants. Cloning would no longer be a technological marvel and death would cease. Once the end seems to be near, you just 3D yourself into existence again with all the disease -free organs anyone could desire. This is one exciting product!

  19. Susan Fourtané
    August 26, 2012


    Exciting, indeed! 

    Watch this kid explaining why he loves his 3D printer.

    Here you can see the first 3D-printed plane in its 10 minute flight. 

    British Airbus engeneers want to print the entire wing of an airplane. Also last year there was a 3D-printed car prototype that worked by remote control. And as I said, a woman got a 3D-printed jaw, and the first 3D-printed kidney has been printed on stage during a TED talk. With the possibility of 3D-printed organs and bones for transplant humany will be as close as you imagine from immortality. 


  20. Susan Fourtané
    August 26, 2012


    Thanks for the link. Yes, the kitchen will be equipped with a 3D printer in the future, as it's equipped with a microwave and a fridge today. Now, what about using the 3D printer to print food for the parts of the world where it is more needed?

    One of the charactristics of 3D printing technology is the reduction in cost of the printed product, and the speed. It's a perfect solution for feeding the people in need where there are not so many food resources. 


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