A friend asked me for examples of teams using 3D printing as part of their Lean Startup approach to validating a market. So specifically teams starting companies selling physical products.
The answer to that is, most tech things on Kickstarter. Anything wearable most likely started out 3D printed to test dimensions, and to be able to print a new shell every time the electronic guts got a little smaller. So for both the looks-like and works-like prototypes. Ninja Blocks is another example. Early versions used in the crowdfunding campaign were 3D printed, later on the casings were injection molded.
So lots of examples of teams using 3d printers to speed up the process of prototyping and getting to where they have a product that they are confident will sell. They then go and manufacture it and, whether crowdfunded or not, the manufacturing is usually a traditional setup with a minimum order of a few thousand units and a decreasing price per unit the bigger the order gets.
Well known, all done many times, many interesting stories about that.
But what is really interesting, what originally got me interested in 3D printing, and what I still don’t see many examples off, is the end to-end business based on on-demand additive manufacturing of an end-product. Well, except for wedding rings and cufflinks, many many of those. And your own head, also many of those. So again, very little that’s useful or of real interest. I spent some months on this a year ago, and have kept an eye on things in the meantime, and very little has happened.
I’m still looking for that problem where the answer is a thingy manufactured by one of the service bureays (Shapeways etc.) that I can sell through a Shopify page. I have an unhealthy fascination with hooking up that combo and having them start printing me money…