Is manufacturing by 3D printing the business model of the future?

New technology enables new business activities. This claim is borne out by the growing number of digital entrepreneurs (or 'digiproneurs') who use digital technology – like 3D printing – to develop tangible innovations. This is not an easy step to take for start-ups, whose main fears concern the costs and time involved. 

It has already been explained how you can become a ‘digiproneur’ and how to solve tangible problems using 3D printing. So in this final take on the subject we take a look at the business model and bridge the gap to ‘co-creation’.

Conventional production: cheap, no added value

For now, many products sold in the West are still being manufactured in China or other low-wage countries. This brings down costs for their producers and means cheaper products for customers. But added value doesn't feature in the equation: the resulting products are of uniform (low) quality and are readily interchangeable.

Smartphones provide a perfect example of this. At the end of the day, there are only minimal differences between iPhones and their Android equivalents, because their components stem from the same factories. And now that personalisation is becoming more and more important, this conventional production model is no longer viable.

The heyday of 'made to measure'

The main drawback of mass production is that manufacturing costs have to be lowered constantly. Start-ups invariably have a tough time competing with such low prices. At the same time, the well-known 'willingness to pay' phenomenon kicks in, e.g. with users refusing to pay for software (such as apps). Today personalised, made-to-measure products appear to be becoming profitable once again. So what's different now? They add value, in the form of:

  • Participation: NIKEiD is the perfect example of the customisation trend, because for some time already it has enabled consumers to design their own shoes in their own style. And consumers' enthusiasm is reflected in Nike's rising turnover and growing profit margins.
  • Connection: The success of platforms like Etsy, where creative entrepreneurs offer unique products to potential buyers, is another indicator of this burgeoning market.

Six advantages of personalised production

3D printing is currently the technology par excellence for creating one-off products. Contrary to what many entrepreneurs believe, taking this approach can even prove cheaper and faster than conventional manufacturing. And even if buying your own 3D printer may not prove cheap, (for the time being) there are some affordable alternatives. For example, you can use a service provider or turn to a local Fab Lab. 3D printers can be used to:

  1. Tailor products to individual wishes, giving each item produced a personal touch.
  2. Keep volumes small and production costs down (production on demand).
  3. Deliver lightning fast, compared to conventional production methods that take weeks.
  4. Manufacture more efficiently, using less material and fewer raw materials.
  5. Produce locally, as opposed to somewhere else (e.g. China).
  6. Turn out top-quality end products.

Integrate co-creation into your business model

3D printing is set to become ever more important in the future and should ultimately supersede conventional production methods. Consumers themselves, who are having an increasing say about products and becoming more involved in their design, are the main drivers of this trend towards 'co-creation'. So entrepreneurs need to anticipate it by creating added value and - in so doing - generating profits and earning trust.

This text is based on a blog previously published on