Re-SWOT your business with 3D printing in mind – Opportunities

In a prior post of this series, I explained why it is wise to (re)SWOT your business with 3D printing* in mind and in another one I suggested assessing the potential Threats your organization could be facing. In this post, it’s about Opportunities offered by the new manufacturing ways.

*I use “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” interchangeably

Reminder: with the recent progresses in 3D printing (and 3D scanning) with regards to materials that can be 3D printed, every business is potentially at risk to discover a 3D printed substitute offered by an unsuspected and probably unknown competitor.

Yet what is a threat to some is an opportunity to others. The ability to offer a faster, cheaper, highly customized or whatever new product or alternative offer incredible new opportunities.

3D printing may break many barriers to entry, opening wide the gateway to previously protected markets.

Any competitor should evaluate the emerging opportunities to redefine the rules in his/her business with additive manufacturing and the opportunities to diversify or expand into new markets.

Some questions to assess the potential Opportunities your organization could be considering

The intent of the following questions is to make you think about the potential opportunities of a 3D printed product. The list of questions may evolve and readers are welcome to suggest additional or alternate ones (please use the comments).

  • Can you imagine any way 3D printing being applied in your business?
  • If 3D printing would be used in your business, what would it be for?
  • Can you think about a (more) disruptive way 3D printing could be used in your business?
  • What 3D printable product or substitute, if it (would) exist, may give you a cutting edge competitive advantage?
  • Could you offer a 3D printed substitute to existing products? What would its advantages be? What new or additional value would it bring? Would your customers want it?
  • Can you imagine expanding your business entering a new market (or segment) with a 3D printed product?
  • Are there any barriers to entry to a protected market you’ve considered that could be taken down with 3D printing / additive manufacturing?

You may have noticed that these questions are very similar to those about Threats. It is no surprise as opportunities for some are threats for others.


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Re-SWOT your business with 3D printing in mind – Threats

In a prior post of this series, I explained why it is wise to (re)SWOT your business with 3D printing* in mind. In this post, I propose some questions to assess the potential Threats your organization could be facing.

*I use “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” interchangeably

With the recent progresses in 3D printing (and 3D scanning) with regards to materials that can be 3D printed, every business is potentially at risk to discover a 3D printed substitute offered by an unsuspected and probably unknown competitor.

Some questions to assess the potential Threats your organization could be facing
The intent of the following questions is to make you think about the potential threats of a 3D printed product. The list of questions may evolve and readers are welcome to suggest additional or alternate ones (please use the comments).

  • Can you imagine any way 3D printing being applied in your business?
  • If 3D printing would be used in your business, what would it be for?
  • Can you think about a more disruptive way 3D printing could be used in your business?
  • What 3D printable product or substitute, if it (would) exist, may disrupt your industry / your market / your business?
  • If a 3D printed substitute suddenly appeared, could you offer the same?
  • Does your organisation have any knowledge about 3D printing? Any know-how? If not, how and where would you quickly get the capacity to propose the 3D printed product? (me-too offering)
  • Did you evaluate how much savings a 3D printed substitute could earn?
  • Compared to 3D printed part or product, what are the advantages of your traditional way of manufacturing?
  • Would your customers continue to pay for if they had the choice with a new 3D printed substitute?

It is possible that going through the questions above, you sense opportunities more or as well as threats. Fine! Opportunities are the next topic to explore.


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Re-SWOT your business with 3D printing in mind – Introduction

In a previous post* I assumed that 3D printing, general naming for additive manufacturing techniques, will revitalize strategic business analysis.

*Will 3D printing revitalize strategic analysis?

In this series of posts, I’d like to invite people in charge or with influence on strategy to reconsider their business with the new possibilities offered by 3D printing.

The incredible pace of innovations among which many real disruptions with 3D printing may surprise unaware business owners. On the positive side, they are many new possibilities to rethink and expand business. On the negative side, one may be put out of business by unexpected new competitors or shift in technologies or a combination of all.

What is it all about?

Additive manufacturing is totally different to traditional manufacturing. Material is “printed” thin layer after thin layer in simple or complex shapes and various materials until the finished 3 Dimensional part is finished on the printer’s bed. Those parts can even embed printed full functionally moving parts, like gears or ball bearings.

Traditional manufacturing cuts away material from a bigger rawling and usually requires many steps and different resources to get the finished part.

The advantages of additive upon traditional manufacturing are already tremendous and everyday new breakthroughs are reported.

Additive manufacturing needs no costly moulds nor toolings, fixtures or jigs, it does not even need skilled workers to operate the machines.

3D printing does not require minimum batch sizes, a tremendous advantage for short lead time and low inventories.

3D printing parts allows changes on the fly, which is top for highly customized production, inventory reduction, quick response to quality issues, and so on.

From this short list, by far not complete, everyone can sense the competitive advantages offered by these new technologies.

Now, it’s time for everyone to assess the current business with additive manufacturing in mind.

In the next post I’ll introduce SWOT analysis: Strength Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats.


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Why you should (re)SWOT your business

There is barely a day without a new announcement about a 3D printing* breakthrough or new 3D printable material or finding 3D printing new applications.

*I use “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” interchangeably

In most cases, 3D printing allows a totally new approach and reinvented value proposition, e.g. printing teeth, prosthetics, glasses frames, mechanical parts or fully functional systems, etc.

3D printing frees from many constraints, especially molds, complicated assemblies, other expensive tooling or multiple steps machining necessary to cut away material in traditional manufacturing.

It does not require to have huge series to ensure low unit cost and is “infinitely” flexible for design  changes and ready for almost any customization.

Additive manufacturing challenges former accumulated experience in traditional manufacturing and does not require expensive machines, thus breaks down many barriers and opens markets to new entrants.

As many applications of additive manufacturing already proved, there is virtually no business safe from 3D printing/additive manufacturing applications and the threat of new entrants.

Chances are that an unexpected competitor arises overnight with a revolutionary new approach to satisfy your customers, ruining years of investments, efforts and accumulation of experience.

The (potential) irony is that this new competitor can not only steal your business, but lock your company out of the market if it does not have the competences, know-how, agility nor resources to switch to the new manufacturing way.

Therefore it is wise for every – emphasize EVERY- business to SWOT-analyse itself from the perspective of the new manufacturing way.

Reminder: SWOT stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, a strategic analysis tool to assess the company’s position on the market and compare it to existing and potential competition.

Should Weaknesses and/or Threats prevail, the company is possibly in danger.

Yet 3D printing can also help reinvent the way your company does business and exploit the Strengths and/or Opportunities going the 3D printing way.

One more reason for swoting your business.


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3D Printing and Porter’s five forces – opportunities

In a previous post on this topic I highlighted the threats of 3D printing – as symbol of any additive manufacturing technology – disrupting traditional businesses, wondering if threatened business owners and professionals are aware of it. In this post I’ll take the opposite point of view, as a challenger to established businesses, breaking the rules with the help of new manufacturing techniques.

With these new techniques and new printable materials, virtually anyone can become a manufacturer, almost overnight. Reconsidering Michael Porter’s five forces model for industry analysis and business strategy development from the point of view of a potential new entrant, the analysis could go like this:

Threat of new entrants

Chris HOHMANN

Author: Chris HOHMANN

The new entrant will threat established businesses by disrupting the way business is done, for instance the offer itself, the prices, customization and speed of delivery. Enter business is easy with new technologies breaking former barriers to entry. 3D printers are not very capital intensive assets.
As a reaction, threatened competitors can lobby to harden regulations and keep new entrants out or limited to niches, trying to raise new barriers. But this is more likely a local strategy as a global world-wide consensus to ban new tech or protect businesses is hard to imagine.
Once in business, the challenger will probably meet others having similar objectives and aggressive offerings. The challenger should therefore fear other new entrants. This leads us to intensity of competitive rivalry.

Intensity of competitive rivalry

New opportunities will probably attract many challengers, especially in dull economies, fuelling competitive rivalry.
Competitors in place may adapt and switch themselves to new technologies. In some cases, their former experience and/or customer base is a real advantage compared to new entrants.

On the other hand, established businesses may still use old capital intensive assets or equipment not yet free from amortization. In many cases this could be a (bad?) reason for them to stick to old ways.

Finally, customers themselves may enter the competition by manufacturing for themselves, turning into competitors of sorts. They may have personal 3D printers or go to a 3D print shop or the next fablab. Customers will probably not 3D print on large scale and setup a business, but doing themselves for family and friends they reduce sales opportunities. This threat should not be underestimated as a lot of small individual players can “capture” a significant market share.

Threat of substitute products or services

Additive manufacturing is relatively new. 3D printing in various materials may see further progress and innovation, allowing new applications, new products and services to emerge. At the actual pace of innovation, hard to say if it will go on or mature as it is. Would I be a challenger or an established business owner, I would keep active watching what may come anyway!

Bargaining power of customers (buyers)

Each time the offer exceeds the demand, the power goes to customers. With the relative ease to establish as a manufacturer, service provider, etc. the number of competitors should increase and their rivalry thus giving more choice, hence bargaining power to customers.

Bargaining power of suppliers

For equipment and raw material suppliers, the trend could go opposite: from few suppliers at the beginning, their number may increase. One can imagine the 3D printing following inkjet printing model: low cost or even free printers but relatively expensive (read profitable) material, just like ink cartridges (or some coffee capsules).

If the printing material becomes a convenience, the number of suppliers may decrease again because of limited profit. The last survivors will regain some power concentrating the supplies on fewer actors.

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