Early 3D Adopters: Who’s Doing 3D Printing?

Hudson Printing opted for a 3D Systems CubeX Duo 3D printer.

The CubeX Duo is a two-color machine that offers a resolution of 125 microns and a build area of 10x10˝.

Burke Jones, owner of  The UPS Store-Kearny Mesa franchise in San Diego, installed a Stratasys uPrint last August as part of a nationwide test run.

3D printing and design capabilities have lead to Jones' shop garnering more traditional printing clients and vice versa.

Braintree Printing’s Jim Corliss feels the $30,000+ price tag of his Stratasys Dimension 1200e creates a barrier to entry for potential competitors.

Everywhere you look, people are talking about 3D printing. But talk is cheap. Are there any commercial printers who have actually invested in 3D printers? Are they using them to produce commercial jobs? If so, what markets are they serving?

The numbers of 3D printers installed at commercial print shops is still quite small. Most devices are purchased by hobbyists, online operations catering to consumer projects, and service bureau-type installations servicing engineers and prototype designers in the medical, industrial and manufacturing markets.

3D printing is, however, starting to find its place in the commercial printing marketplace. Just as in the early days of digital printing (back when Cindy Crawford ruled the runway and neon colors were all the rage), commercial printers with 3D machines are trying to figure out not just the capabilities of the technology, but what applications will become profit centers. The UPS Store and Staples recently garnered headlines for their investment in 3D printing, but theirs are not necessarily models that other printers can follow.

The challenge does not come from the output technology. 3D printers themselves are pretty much plug-and-play. Whether it’s an inexpensive hobbyist device or a more robust commercial 3D printer, simply plug it into your network and print. It’s the 3D design requirements and ability to identify market opportunities that create the bumps in the road.

Hudson Printing

Still, not all printers are waiting until they have it all figured out. Salt Lake City-based Hudson Printing didn’t. Paul Gardner, director of innovation, had been brought on board to help reposition the company in the eyes of customers. “Hudson Printing is a wonderful, 100-year old business, and we want to start building it in new ways so it’s still here 100 years from now,” Gardner says. One of the first things he did was buy a 3D printer.

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  • Paul Gardner

    I love the comment by Burke Jones, "Once they come in and see 3D printing in front of them, it’s almost like part of their brain activates that wasn’t active before."

    We see exactly this response from customers in the Hudson Printing lobby. It’s just such a different way of looking at Print!

    But I empathize with Jim Corliss about the v e r y s l o w nature of these devices. With even a small item taking an hour or more to print, we’ve taken to starting prints ahead of time for client visits where we hope to show them a finished piece coming out of the machine.

    Thanks for focusing some attention on this amazing set of technologies!