When we were researching yesterday’s topic, another really good topic presented itself of is there really one 3D printer to fit all or do you need to have singular focus in 3D printing? It got us really thinking. Yesterday we were talking about Autodesks’ Project Escher and we were really looking at it in terms of them creating a giant build plate with many print heads on it. In their video their 3D printing Research Scientist, Andreas Bastian, says that why should a printer that prints airplane parts also print bio parts and also print something gadgety like keychain parts. I think that’s the fundamental reason why we keep coming back to WHAT you want to print being critically important, but he is right about the hardware.
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The Need for Singular Focus in 3D Printing – Can One 3D Printer Really Fit All?
Today you look at it, and it’s the same hardware across every single industry, but that’s not really what we mean by having a singular focus in 3D printing. Look at the 3D printers that are printing airplane parts and look at the ones that are printing little gadgets that turn into junk drawer stuff. It’s the same basic equipment. It’s a great point and something we’ve discussed personally but not on the air before as we have explored new business ideas. Right now, the desktop 3D printing industry in general is building printers that are really made for making nothing specific, they are made for making general products and whatever can fit in the build platform.
That’s their singular focus in 3D printing, and people in business are so afraid to focus on one specific thing and do it really great. They are so afraid that they will limit themselves in terms of a market. Or, what I find more often than that, is that they actually haven’t done their research in the beginning of the project to really understand what their market is, and who they want to speak to, and what their message is. If you know those things, then you know that deep serious focus, you know what impact you want to have, and what design message you want to have, and you look at all of that and when it’s in line, then your path is so clear. What material you choose, what parts you choose, everything becomes so much clearer. For us, this is the kind of client we like to work with. We like to work with the clients who already understand their WHY, where they want to go, who they want to speak to, and why they are doing what they are doing. If they do that, our job is so easy and we can be so successful for them.
The thing is, when you are making a 3D printer that can make anything in concept, will it really make a lot of very specific things as good as they can be, or is it just making them reasonably okay? It’s kind of like a jack knife or like the cliché, “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” So like a jack knife, is it the best screwdriver out there? No, but it’s got a screwdriver. It’s got a bottle opener but it’s not the best bottle opener out there. This is maybe and over simplification, because 3D printers can do a whole lot more than what a jack knife can.
Back to the example, so we were getting our car serviced at the dealership, and they have all these different license plate frames mounted in their parts department. Free business idea right here, we’ve seriously considered it but it’s on our discard pile not because it’s not a good idea, but because it doesn’t fit our business. It’s more just us, we had to decide if we wanted to be the custom license plate frame people. It’s not really our passion, but I think it’s a great business idea. Think about how license plate frames are made to today, they are made of a really thin area around the license plate. It used to be that cars only had room for just the license plate with a very small indentation. Most cars these days have room for a European license plate, which is much wider, so you have all this real estate. You also have a deeper inset with a light on them so now they have more space than they used to.
It’s a lot of space so why are all the license plate frames still just the little rectangular bit? That’s because a lot of the companies that make them are heavily invested in a lot of expensive injection molding equipment or metal casting equipment in the case of metal ones that are only that size. For them to tool and make something bigger, it’s prohibitively expensive. 3D printing can be easily used, and yesterday when we were talking about going outside the build plate, now it’s going outside the license plate frame. You really have a much better opportunity for personalization.
I don’t know about other parts of the country, but we are here driving around in California all the time and in recent years there has been this trend of people putting white vinyl stickers on the rear window that have your family unit. Like caricatures of the mom and dad, how many kids, even a dog and cat sticker if they have them. There other things that they put on their window, and that’s really the only space they have to personalize their car in a significantly obvious way.
License plate frames, considering their size, can affect that in a big way. Even if you did, lets just say to make it print really quick and to do it while people are waiting in the dealership, sitting around an hour waiting for the car to be serviced, the dealership could do a value ad sale to that customer to make more money while they wait. They could look at it printing and see it’s so cool and no one else would have it cause it’s customized. It’d even be entertaining to watch while you wait.
Let’s say you mold a bunch of ABS blank frames and then this printer is specifically designed to only print in the specific areas on that frame that could take it . You’d print ABS on top of the ABS that’s there and do custom lettering, maybe a symbol, but custom lettering is easier because you could just type in what you want. Put the blank license plate in, you could even clamp it down, and you print right on top of it. Because you aren’t printing the entire frame, and only printing the letting and the customized part, that could easily print in an hours’ time. Maybe even less, depends on what you are printing.
I don’t know about you guys out there, but even when they say it’s 30 minutes to get the oil changed, it’s never 30 minutes. It’s always an hour to an hour and a half. It’s ridiculous. Instead of being stuck watching crappy daytime tv you could be watching a very cool printer running. I love the idea of that.
We also think you really need to have a sort of scaled down 3D printer, one that only does license plate customization really well. So you could choose your parts, choose how you are processing it, choose the size of your build plate, choose everything to just make that work really well and work perfectly. You dial in the software, you dial in the hardware, it’s a simple machine that only has to do one thing. You can make a much more effective machine.
I think that’s something that the Project Escher team has proven out, they didn’t start with the machine first, they started with the software and what they wanted to print first. Then they made the hardware to meet their needs. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I was thinking we could produce these license plate machines or have them produced for us, you could have a kiosk type of thing, but sell it to the dealers as a way to make more money. And they don’t have to be heavily invested in all the different materials or all those different little sayings for the license plates that are out there that they’ve been buying. They can instead invest in a kiosk and make anything you want. They could make a bunch of examples and hang them up.
So whoever is out there and think this is a cool project and you want to take it on, do not forget to come back to us because we have some great ideas about what you should print on those license plates at the end of the day so we’d love to partner on that. That’s where the core of our business lies, is on WHAT to print, not in making machines and other things. But if you want to take that on, we would love to do the what of it.
You could do that with any type of business where you did something that was like a kiosk where you are really focusing on just creating that one thing in the store as a retail opportunity. I think that that type of focus is exactly what you need as a business owner as a project to get your project done, whatever it might be. If you have that singular focus to do something with great impact, every choice that you make along the way reflects that criteria, reflects that impact. That’s really the power of doing something like that, and that’s why something like that can be more successful.
I want to throw out a book to everyone that I absolutely love and it’s one of my favorite books that I’ve read in the last year. It’s Focus on Impact by Wendy Lipton Dibner, I just interviewed her for an upcoming Inc. By Design article that should be coming out in a few weeks. She is just so interesting and she’s got a roadmap model for how to do that and for all the things that you just basically throw out that aren’t giving you that singularness of focus on your impact. What she’s researched and done is found that that is more monetarily successful at the end of the day than trying to do everything. She has thousands of companies in her research that she’s proved that the singularness of focus can really be the difference between making millions of dollars and making hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It’s some good sound business advice for a lot of entrepreneurs. For those of us with the more analytical and engineering type or design process minds, she really lays it out there with all the details and the analytics. I love that she’s so research driven in the book, you don’t get many books written like that anymore, because a lot of business books out there are mostly just regurgitation of other business ideas – this is not.
This is a fascinating subject that we really haven’t talked a lot about and I hope you all find it interesting too that maybe for a lot of business applications for 3D printing, you need to think about customizing it to make that printer make exactly what you want to make. If you know exactly what you want to do, that is also a very good way to go about building a business. Focusing on one product or one product line before going on to the next one. It may be very streamlined to have a machine that is customized and made to do whatever it is than to have an off the shelf machine in an industrial application.
It’s a brilliant example of how that could work. I’m glad we got that idea from watching the Autodesk video the other day, it reminded me of how important that is. One little technical thing if you are going to do that, put a blank of plastic down that you are going to print on top of. So you have already molded something, you don’t need a heated bed. If you are going to buy a printer with a heated bed you are wasting money on that hardware you don’t need because you are just going to clamp that blank down and print new ABS on top of the old ABS.
This is what happens when we throw out ideas like this, we really start thinking that we can do that and we get so focused on that, so that’s really why we have a process by which we sort of discard these ideas. We screen them and we set them aside. Sometimes they come back up to the surface because they really are great ideas. We didn’t want to be so singularly focused from a design standpoint on just being “the license plate frame guys,” we were the “pen guys” for awhile there. From a design perspective what we decided was that we wanted to singularly focus on what we could do best and what we could deliver best, but not the WHAT being one thing again and again and again. It would get really stale and boring for us, but it might be very lucrative nonetheless.
Let us know your singular focus in 3D printing ideas and thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to send in your #MakerMilestones for the competition that we are judging. You have about a month left to publish your Maker Milestones, so please do and tag us at @hazzdesign, we’d love to see what you have out there.
- 3D Printing Outside the Build Plate
- Autodesk Project Escher
- Focus on Impact by Wendy Lipton Dibner
- Inc. By Design article
- Maker Milestones Contest
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