So, I bought a 3D printer! 🙂 Yes, after several years of thinking about it, I finally purchased a small, budget-class 3D printer. I wanted to thoroughly investigate this technology that everyone seems to be talking about, check out how good it has become, and figure out how 3D printing could affect the global business scene in the future.
A few years ago, when 3D printers were starting to become more and more popular, I instantly liked the concept a lot, and I could see that the potential for this technology would be massive in the future. At that time, I checked out a lot of YouTube videos on the print quality—and it was AWFUL! The individual layers of plastic were very visible, and the final pieces looked like they were handmade by melting plastic layer by layer.
In my mind, the quality of the final printed object is the NUMBER one thing the 3D printing industry needed to fix, and as you will find out later on in this post, they have done an excellent job in this regard over the last couple of years. Apart from quality, there are other essential factors to be considered—like speed of production, use of materials, complexity of models, etc.—but without a high-quality output, everything else is pointless.
Speaking of high-quality 3D printing, it entirely correlates with the current state of the VR (virtual reality) industry. I don’t own any VR devices, but the other day I stopped by Samsung’s demo for their Gear VR device and tried it on. I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I can’t understand HOW so many people are currently using these devices…
The QUALITY and resolution of the output are HORRIBLE. So much so that I could not stand it for more than 20 or 30 seconds. It was THAT BAD! I haven’t seen a screen so pixelated and graphics so bad since my teenage years with my first Sega Mega Drive games (those actually looked better, as far as I remember).
I know that many people won’t agree with me, but the current VR technology is totally unusable. The resolution and technology are simply not there yet. NOT EVEN CLOSE! Plus, a large percentage of people who use VR in its current state suffer from the motion sickness when using it—and, unfortunately, I’m one of them.
Last year, while on vacation in Tenerife, I tried the PSVR and HTC Vive systems in a shopping mall where they had a real-life rally car simulation service set up. I had to get out in less than two minutes because I very quickly got sick. It was the worst and quickest 20 EUR I have ever spent. I was in and out in under two minutes! 🙂 And I was extremely disappointed by the quality of the video for both the PSVR and the HTC Vive. It was pixelated and generally looked pretty rubbish.
I get the immersive experience and all that, but without huge improvements in resolution, the field of view and other elements, it will never become a mainstream thing. I’m only saying this because I know it WILL improve and it WILL become part of our everyday lives (especially augmented reality), but we’re years away from that right now. My guess is we’re at least five to ten years away—unless some miracle happens or someone introduces a totally different technology (we all witnessed how even investments of hundreds of millions of dollars didn’t help the first version of the Magic Leap AR glasses get that far).
While 3D printing and VR are very similar industries, they’re not the same thing. In my opinion, 3D printing has made much faster and better progress since the technology is actually already widely used in manufacturing plants, the medical industry, and in a range of other industries and applications. Before we talk about how 3D printing could make you money as an Amazon seller, let’s take a closer look at the 3D printer that I personally bought. For those of you who are completely new to 3D printing, I will also explain, in basic terms (I’m not an expert either here), how 3D printing generally works.
My Cetus 3D Printer
So, the basic idea behind a 3D printer is that you get a:
- 3D printer (obviously, doh!).
- Filament (material to print with, which usually comes on a spool and looks like a plastic string. It looks similar to those used in lawn trimmers).
- 3D model drawing/image.
- Software that runs and manages the printer.
You will also need a computer to run the software from, though some of the latest 3D printers, including one I bought, can be run from a tablet or mobile phone using a special application.
It sounds all simple, right? Yes, it can be. If you go for the simplest solution, you will get exactly that. There are, of course, more complicated 3D printing machines that require special knowledge and complicated software, but for our purposes, we’re looking at the most basic setup that could be used to manufacture an item you can sell on Amazon.
Knowing that I needed a VERY SIMPLE and hassle-free solution, I started my intensive research! The best way to find the best solution for you is to dig into YouTube channels dedicated to 3D printing. If you’re interested, here are few of the best I found:
We really should be so, SO grateful that we live in this age of technology! Apart from having such 3D printing technology in the first place, we can also quickly learn ANYTHING using YouTube and the internet in general. We can leverage other people’s knowledge and experience in a SUPER short period of time. It’s what I do with my blog too! I use the internet to share my experience and knowledge about ecommerce and selling on Amazon so you DON’T have to spend 15 years learning it like I did!
When I decided to buy my 3D printer, I spent maybe ten hours maximum watching YouTube videos. I quickly found a printer that LOOKED like a perfect fit. But I want to emphasise the word “LOOKED”. Let me tell you this: I have had extensive experience with many industrial/manufacturing/packaging/printing machines in my life. In most cases, what looks like an easy solution on the surface ends up as a lengthy and painful learning experience until you get the machine working as you expected it to work.
One recent example of that would be the electronic cutters I had to research, use and implement in one of my businesses recently:
When you look at YouTube videos on how these cutters operate, it all seems so simple and rosy, but when you receive the machine and put in the first job, you immediately say, “OUCH, not so fast!” Just to name a few things that I needed to master with these machines:
- Cutting settings – tons of them! When you change one thing, another changes. I spent days and weeks on mastering the cutting settings.
- Cutting settings for different materials. Once you have mastered the settings for one material, you have to start over with the same procedure for the next material.
- Blades become dull. This affects cutting, but you don’t really know whether a bad cut is due to a dull blade or an incorrect setting. Awesome!
- Material not sticking to the carrying mat.
- Material getting stuck to the carrying mat.
- And so on!
I don’t want to bore you with all the details, but I will say that if you do need to purchase any specialised machinery for your business, make sure you research it thoroughly. Ideally, you should go to see the machine in real life. Yes, even if this means travelling to the manufacturer or showroom in another country. Trust me, it’s well worth the trip and will help you avoid a huge learning curve and disappointment later on.
So, my goal was to find a 3D printer that would be HASSLE-FREE! I really don’t have the time or energy to fiddle with dozens of settings to get decent prints. I only wanted to give this a go if there was a true plug-and-play option available.
And there is! Today, 3D printing at home can be super easy and reliable.
The printer I bought is the Cetus 3D printer. It is a very simple, small, easy-to-operate hobbyist 3D printer that costs just $349.
The main reasons why I specifically selected this printer are:
1) Price – $349 is, in my opinion, an excellent deal. Especially considering that there are 3D printers that cost thousands of pounds.
2) Print Quality – Obviously I wanted a printer that would produce decent-quality 3D prints, but one that could also be used for the manufacturing process.
3) Size – Small, desktop-friendly solution. I didn’t want a massive machine that gathers dust or requires a special desk. I did not have any plans for printing LARGE items, so a small printer with a bed size of 18 cm by 18 cm would be perfect. (The bed is the metallic platform that you print things on.)
4) Assembly – The Cetus 3D printer comes almost fully assembled. You need to screw on one piece and the bed itself, which only took me about ten minutes to complete. Many other budget-class 3D printers come fully disassembled and require some construction to put them together. I was not really interested in that. I have enough hobbies on my plate!
5) Software – I wanted super simple, free software with no monthly costs, which is exactly what Cetus provides with their own UP Studio. It is a proprietary software made by Cetus and is very simple—something that many 3D hobbyists consider a negative. However, in my mind, this was perfect because I wanted something very basic. I just wanted to open the model file and click PRINT! Up Studio is exactly that.
6) Reviews – As I said, I did extensive research on my different options. Even though there are not that many reviews on the Cetus 3D printer, all of them are very positive and recommend this as a perfect entry-level printer. The only negatives were about the basic software, but I saw this simplicity as a huge plus.
7) UK Distributor/Warranty – Knowing how unreliable such machines can be, I ideally wanted to buy it from a UK-based company or seller. Cetus machines are made in China (just like the majority of 3D printers) but they do have a UK distributor, which means quick delivery and hopefully quick replacement parts if I ever need them.
So, it was a no-brainer really. The Cetus is the perfect 3D printer for someone who just wants to give this a go and maybe print something for their family, household, a gift or two or just get familiar with the technology and stay up to date in dinner talks with tech nerds, right? 🙂
Yes, I’m happy to say that I did make the right choice. I won’t lie; I was very sceptical in the beginning as I have a lot of experience dealing with products like these. However, so far, my experience with this printer has been very good (apart from a few minor issues that I’ll cover in a second).
One disadvantage I didn’t mention is that the Cetus standard version DOES NOT come with a HEATED bedplate. The heated bedplate means that the metallic plate you print on is heated so that material adheres to it and stays in place. This feature is only necessary if you want to print with more unusual materials, like ABS, for example. If you want to stick with the simplest/cheapest printing material, which is called PLA, you don’t need the heated bed. Alternatively, Cetus does now offer a heated bedplate as a paid upgrade, so if you need one, you can get one.
Another quick tip: if you decide to get this particular printer, don’t be as dumb as I was when first setting it up. I knew that it had built-in WiFi, so I just plugged it into the mains and opened the software, which couldn’t find the printer. It has WiFi so it should come up, right? LOL, no! You first need to enter the WiFi password into the printer so it can connect to your network. Just a little tip to save you some frustration! 🙂
So, the first time you run the machine, you will want to connect it to your computer using the USB cable. After that, you can set it up to run over Wi-Fi, which will also allow you to use your smartphone or tablet for sending print jobs to the printer.
Now, let’s quickly cover the filament issue. I say issue because there are now HUNDREDS of brands out there selling filament material for 3D printers, so it is really hard to choose which brand to go with.
Obviously, with manufacturing in mind, I was looking for the cheapest options with the best Amazon reviews, and I eventually settled on a brand called Sunlu. It’s a Chinese brand and manufacturer, and you can buy their rolls of PLA filament for less than £20:
I won’t lie and pretend that I’m an expert in filament materials, but I can honestly say that I have been very happy with the Sunlu filament. I have never had any of the jamming or wrapping issues that come up in reviews for other brands or lower-quality filament material. I have now printed through several rolls and it has been all good!
I also have a feeling that when it comes to the basic PLA filament (not talking about more unusual materials), all the good brands have more or the less the same quality whether you pay £20 per roll or £50 per roll. It all comes down to BRANDING (something I obviously love). Even some of the biggest YouTubers in the 3D printing industry have said that they personally use basic/budget filament material and it works just fine. Yes, they receive tons of free filament materials, including expensive ones from companies looking for reviews/free advertisement, but they still say that the basic filament is good for everyday projects, and I believe them.
Obviously, being who I am and this being a business blog, I simply had to check out all those brands of filament material on Amazon to compare them with how much they cost in China. So, after a quick search on Alibaba, I found the Sunlu company there:
They sell spools for around $6 – $7, and that’s for very small quantities. With decent quantities, that price could be lowered to about $5 per spool. Anyone need a new Amazon product idea? 🙂
To sum it up, after seeing how well the budget filament material performs, I can’t see any reason why you would want to spend more than £20 on a 1kg spool of basic PLA material. I think the limitations of the printer itself means we don’t see a huge difference when using a higher-quality PLA material, so there’s no point in paying for it.
But what about the actual 3D files? Where do I get files to print?
Good question! I’m not a 3D designer, and it’s not something I want to learn! I just wanted a quick and easy way to print out ready-made 3D models. Mind you, I’m talking about personal use here, not business/commercial use because that’s completely different. We’ll cover that later on in this post.
I found two perfect websites that had exactly what I wanted:
- Thingiverse.com – a community of 3D hobbyists who share 3D files.
- Tinkercad.com – a very simple, web-based 3D modelling software.
The first website, Thingiverse.com, is truly AMAZING! I didn’t know it even existed before I started doing research into 3D printing! Thingiverse.com is a huge community of 3D enthusiasts who create and share free 3D models (files), upload/share/comment on printed versions of those models, and much more! There are thousands of 3D files you can download for free and start printing immediately. I can’t recommend this website highly enough! It was more than I was hoping to find!
Tinkercad.com, on the other hand, is actually software that allows you to create 3D models and download files to your 3D printer. Remember, I did not want to learn any new software, right? Correct! And that statement still holds true. Tinkercad is a very basic tool that anyone can start using immediately to create basic shapes in a 3D environment. I use this to create specific-sized objects or, for example, text on items like keyrings. You can even import a model from Thingiverse.com and then customise it in Tinkercad with your own text or elements.
And that’s about it! That was a brief introduction to the printer part, filament, software and files. Now that we have covered the basics of 3D printing, let’s talk business since that’s what you’re here for, right? YES! I’m not a 3D printing expert so I’m sure that this post is not that valuable for the 3D printing community or hobbyists, but it could provide you with an idea or two about how to turn all this into an actual business. Let’s get to it!
Is there a BUSINESS in 3D printing?
Yes, there is. That’s the short answer. The longer answer depends on WHAT KIND of business you’re interested in. This blog is all about ecommerce and selling physical products on Amazon, so you’re obviously more interested in how 3D printing could work with the Amazon business model.
The good news is that it definitely can work. The bad news is that, in most cases, the potential is very limited, so it would be very difficult to build a REAL business on Amazon using just a 3D printer. This is mostly because of the technical limitations of today’s printing technology which still limits us in materials that can be used, the final product resolution/quality, and the speed of production. Still, some people do successfully use 3D printers to MANUFACTURE products and sell them online. More on that in a moment.
3D printing technology is already widely used in various manufacturing facilities. There are even 3D printing farms in China with hundreds of printers set up to print out all kinds of small parts made of plastic and other materials.
Many startup companies are working on future technologies based on 3D printing. There are medical companies who already use 3D printing for various tasks, and experts are predicting future breakthroughs in medicine based solely on 3D printing.
Architects and engineers are using 3D printing in their everyday work to bring models, building plans and mechanical parts to life. All of that is ALREADY happening, and it happens at a scale that most people don’t even realise.
If you ask me, apart from printing and selling actual 3D printed models, there are currently three alternative ways to make money with 3D printing:
1) 3D printing service.
This is essentially how the business started. People or companies purchased one or several printers and sold the service of printing any objects you might need. Usually, the fee is based on either material (filament weight) used, the time the printer is running OR a combination of both.
Nowadays, there are many, MANY such 3D printing hubs, companies and individuals running such operations, so the competition is fierce in this space. Unless you have direct access to a specific, local customer group, it will be very hard to get into this business now as it is already quite saturated with established players.
So basically, I think this CAN work great if you have a clear plan for how to target a specific group of customers locally or even online (like specific forum/Facebook group you’re part of which will give you the ability to advertise your services to interested people).
2) Selling 3D equipment, materials and accessories.
As boring as it may sound, I still believe there’s huge potential in selling the equipment itself and consumables, especially in the UK. Currently, this industry is so new (small) that it will grow at double-digit speed for many years to come, so there will be opportunities and room for more and more players in this space.
Also, from what I discovered while doing my research, many 3D printer online retailers are very boring, too technical or extremely amateurish in their approach to selling. I strongly believe that you can reach new customers here by creating an amazing brand, maintaining a good online shop, developing a strong social presence (crucial), and creating content, tutorials and reviews around the products you sell.
People need to be educated on what 3D printing is all about! You have to SHOW them through video how to use this technology, what can be done with it, and so on. It’s selling through showing! I can’t think of a better industry than this to apply a YouTube marketing strategy, especially in the UK and Europe where not that many people are doing this.
This approach will require substantial investment. Don’t think that you can just go to Sunlu, get your filament rolls branded and sell them on Amazon all day long for easy profits. The competition in that space on Amazon is already crowded and demand is not yet that great either. Let’s take a look at the Jungle Scout data on Amazon.co.uk.
As you can see, demand shows as SMALL while competition is MEDIUM. This is a situation we usually want to avoid when doing product research. You can see from the sales numbers that best listings do just a few thousand per month in sales.
On the other hand, if we take a look at Amazon.com, the situation is radically different:
Medium demand and HIGH competition. The best listings are selling tens of thousands of dollars per month. Obviously, the US market is much bigger than the UK and Amazon is more popular there. Additionally, 3D printing, in general, is a few years ahead of us in the US.
Still, selling filament material alone on Amazon most likely won’t work for you as the product is quite large, heavy and prices are already relatively low because many manufacturers, including Sunlu, sell there directly. You can imagine that is very difficult—if not impossible—to compete on Amazon with the manufacturer since their costs will be lowest possible.
Besides, as I previously explained AND heard from many 3D YouTubers, the higher-priced, “premium” filament brands are more or less HYPE and not worth the price. This means that the majority of people will go with good-quality budget brands anyways, like Sunlu.
3) Teaching 3D printing classes.
This is a relatively new concept that is already growing in the US, and I believe that it will become quite popular over here too. Basically, you can offer classes on 3D printing, usually for children, where you teach them the technology, software, and let them print their own models, etc. It’s like an after-school class for 3D printing. But it can also work for adults too if you put the right spin on it (like teaching how to model/design and print household items or how to use 3D printing in the modelist/hobbyist category or robotics).
Speaking of robotics, a perfect fit for 3D printing classes is Arduino! If you can combine both of these technologies together, you can create amazing, engaging class material that will keep kids excited for years as there are so many levels they can grow through, starting out as a beginner and ending up completing really complicated projects.
This model can also include the selling of actual 3D printing supplies, like printers and filament, to your students. In fact, this retail side of teaching classes can potentially make up half or more of your profit in this business model.
Obviously, teaching classes is not for everyone and requires some investment in renting space, buying printers and computers, so what about the most obvious business model? Why not print items using a 3D printer and then sell them on Amazon, eBay or Etsy? Is that even possible?
Yes, it is. Many people are already doing it…
Turning your 3D printer into a
money making machine on eBay & Amazon!
So, the idea is very simple. You print/manufacture a product and sell it on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, your own online shop or whatever other channels you have access to. You can print items on demand, which means that when you get an order, you print the item and ship it out. Alternatively, you can pre-print products and have them in stock or even send them to Amazon FBA if you don’t want to deal with order processing yourself.
Yes, this all works, and people are already doing it! The downside is that it is only in very few cases that this can actually become a substantial business. As you will soon find out from the examples below, it is more like a hobby business for most people at the moment—but that’s not because the idea is wrong. The problem is that 3D printing still has limitations in terms of quality, material choice and print speed.
You can’t print an awesome looking glass sports bottle with a metallic lid and plastic inlay in ten minutes. You can’t print a stapler with plastic and metallic parts combined. Heck, you can’t even print a case for a remote control so that it doesn’t look like a kid’s school project. By the way, a remote control case is probably is the closest to a good-quality item you could print using today’s technology.
And that is all understandable, of course, knowing how new all of this is. And I know that some of you will say, “Andrew, there are already 3D printers that can print in super high-quality resolution, using metals, titanium, glass and what not.” Yes, there are super expensive, laboratory-grade machines that cost astronomical sums of money. However, these are not mainstream yet—not even close—so for the purpose of this article, we can safely ignore those.
I want to show you what is currently possible for those of us who don’t have tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to invest. I want to show you the types of items you can print and sell using 3D printers that cost less than £1k (or even less than £500, as I have proven with my Cetus printer).
I will use example listings from eBay here. Most of these products are also selling on Amazon, but the sales are so low that it’s not easy to accurately measure market size since Jungle Scout won’t be that accurate in such situations.
On eBay, we can quickly see how many items have been sold in last month by clicking on the SOLD items number. So here are a few products that I found by doing a quick search on eBay (click on the image to go to the actual eBay listing):
These are just a few examples, but you get the idea. Most of these items are selling very slowly—just a few a month—but some are actually showing promising sales results! For example, the customised keyrings with 100 sales per month and the last example of the rubber part for an M365 scooter which had 50 sales in the last month.
Still, these are cheap items, so we’re not talking about any serious business or profit here. At least, not based on a few items sold. To see any real profit, you would need to have a large variety of items listed—hundreds of items—and then you could potentially make at least a few thousand pounds per month with this.
The part I like most about 3D printing manufacturing is that you don’t have to keep large amounts of stock. If you sell on eBay, you can easily print out items as the orders come in. If you use Amazon FBA, you can pre-print a small number of items and send them to Amazon’s warehouse, so you don’t need to order hundreds or thousands of units. This means your initial investment in new products can be very low. PLUS, you avoid the risk of having large amounts of dead inventory that you can’t move/sell.
So, all in all, I like it! The problem currently lies in the technological limitations and the speed of 3D printing—that’s it. Once these things are fixed or improved, way more opportunities will show up, and people who follow this industry will be able to make lots of money.
Speaking of speed, I was personally very surprised when I first got my Cetus printer by how SLOW the 3D printing process is! It is REALLY slow. Painfully slow! Especially if you use the highest quality settings.
Just to give you an example: I have printed lots of sets of these shoelace clips for my kids:
It takes around 5 hours to print one set at the highest quality!!! FIVE HOURS!
This is a very small item, so you can only imagine how many printers you would need to purchase if you wanted to print dozens of such items a day, never mind hundreds.
And there’s another important thing to understand. Right now, 3D printing, mostly due to the speed and technical limitations, is not really suitable for mass production. It does not make sense to purchase, say, ten printers and print shoelace clips all day long. With ten machines, you would only produce 50 packs a day! Why do that?!
If you need bulk production, you could simply order the item from China, get a custom mould created for you (if needed) and manufacture 1000, 10,000 or 100,000 units quickly and cheaply. It doesn’t make sense to use 3D printers for a job like this—at least, not at the current speed that they operate.
So, the speed is a big issue here…
Cost is also something I was sceptical about, but it turns out that this part is not that bad at all. If we use the same shoelace clips as an example, it takes approximately 20 grams of PLA material to make them. That is at the strongest density and highest print quality setting (I’m sure you can save material here by NOT doing it at such a high quality). One gram of Sunlu PLA material costs us 2p (one roll is 1kg and costs £20, so one gram costs 2p).
This means that manufacturing one pack (a pair of two) would cost £0.40 in PLA material. In addition to electricity, of course, and amortisation of the actual 3D printer. The material cost could be lowered BY HALF if buying PLA material in bulk directly from Sunlu or another manufacturer. That would bring the item’s cost price down to 20p, which is actually very good.
I don’t know whether a manufacturer in China could produce this item for 20p a piece. They probably could if you place a large enough order, but you would still have to cover the cost of the custom mould, unless a version of the product is already available for sale from the manufacturer.
There’s another important thing you need to understand if you want to get into this business, and that is the actual printing FILE/MODEL you will use for production. You can’t simply take a file from Thingiverse.com, print it out and sell it online. All of the free files on Thingverse have a license for personal use only, which means you can’t use those files for commercial purposes. Well, you could (and many people probably do), but it would be against the law and could lead to legal problems later on.
To properly do this on a commercial scale, you would either need to:
- Obtain (BUY) a commercial license from the creator of that model/file.
- Create your own file/model.
Both options are doable. There are thousands of 3D model designers who can create such files for you on Upwork.com, Fiverr.com and other online freelance marketplaces. You can actually take an existing model/idea and ask someone to re-create it, make a small change or tweak here and there to make it unique, and then you’re good to go!
So, it is all doable—and people are already doing it! With the correct items, a good 3D printer set-up and cheap printing material, I can see how people are already making money with this. It may not be a lot of money, but it is still a unique niche right now. With competition that is not that high and while the volume is still low, profit is there to be made.
Ok, there are few final thoughts I want to share with you on the whole Amazon 3D printing business concept, so let’s dive into my favourite part of the post…
Those of you who have been following me for a while will know that I’m a huge fan of the manufacturing business concept. I have even included a special, separate module on this concept in my Amazon Sharks program. I call it Manufacturing Paradise. In my opinion, it is a paradise because you keep 100% control over your supply chain. Of course, you will still have to deal with suppliers of materials, but it’s not as risky as the typical situation where someone else manufactures the product for you.
I totally get that manufacturing is NOT suitable for everyone. Not everyone wants to deal with equipment and not everyone is creative enough to come up with good product ideas and so on. That’s fine. They can stick with the normal importing from China concept and let others do the manufacturing for them. You can still be highly successful on Amazon following this concept.
3D printing is part of the Manufacturing Paradise module, and even though there’s not a lot to say about it right now, over the next three to five years, it will evolve into something very workable. There will be more and more companies using it to MANUFACTURE actual products or parts of the product for sale online, including Amazon. I’m 100% sure this will happen with improvements in technology, speed, and in material use and quality.
Still, people are doing it today and making money, as you have seen from product examples I have given. If you ask me, right now, for the Amazon/eBay space, the two most profitable areas to explore would be:
- Customisable goods market;
- Highly unique niche items.
Custom items with people’s names, pet names, custom designs, etc. is a HUGE business, and it’s only continuing to grow. Those custom name keyrings look cool, and there is no other technology to create them like this apart from 3D printing. So, it’s a perfect match! That seller has sold 100 units over the last month, and even though the price is just £3.50, the cost of the actual manufacturing of such a small product is less than 10p.
The second scenario where 3D printing can work really well is for very specific needs/uses, like the example of the rubber vibration dampers for that M365 scooter.
I own that scooter, and even though it’s a great scooter, it quickly developed a squeaking sound in the place where it folds in two parts. After a quick Google search, I knew that I needed to add a special piece between the mechanism, so I found that model on Thingiverse, printed it out and fixed the problem! 🙂
But then I also noticed that someone is actually selling the part on eBay. Making 50 sales per month on such a specific item is not bad at all! Very few people own a 3D printer to print such a specific piece, so I can definitely see this as a valuable service/product that perfectly suits the 3D printing manufacturing business model.
I printed my piece using PLA material, which is basically a hard plastic, but that seller sells a “rubber” version. This is most likely ABS or a similar material that is FLEXIBLE! And for that particular piece, flexible material will work much better. I’m actually considering buying the rubber version of the item from them because I can’t print ABS material with my Cetus printer (I would need to upgrade it by purchasing a heated bedplate and then, of course, getting a roll of ABS material).
These are just two examples that demonstrate that it does work. I’m sure there are many, many more, especially ones similar to the scooter example. I can imagine there are all kinds of PARTS that need to be replaced in the home, DIY scene, hobbyist market, and so on. These are all parts that can be created with a 3D printer. You won’t become a millionaire with just a few items, but if you build up a portfolio of 100, 200 or 300 items? That could lead to a full-size business.
To sum it up, here are few of my own experiments and things I have printed out. Some turned out great, some not so great! 🙂
IMPORTANT!!! These are CLOSE-UP images and it may look like print quality is not that great. But when you look at these items in real life, they look much better and print surface is much smoother 🙂
iPhone Cable Protectors – These turned out PERFECT! Small, simple item that is ideal for 3D printing.
Toothpaste Tube Squeezer – Again, perfect final result. I’m very happy with how it turned out!
Side Bag Clips – These are used to close bags of foods to keep them fresh for longer. Excellent model and the perfect final result. These almost look like they have come from a real manufacturer using a plastic injection mould.
T-Rex Skull – It started out well but the model moved a bit many hours into the print job, which destroyed the top part. I tried to do it one more time and the same thing happened.
Piggy Bank – Just like with the T-Rex skull, the model somehow moves when the printing head reaches a certain height, which destroys the whole top part of the item. I did this twice with the same piggy bank model and the result was the same. Maybe I need to contact Cetus and ask them about this as there could be some fault in the machine or the way I’m doing it.
As you can see, 3D printing technology SHINES with small, simple objects. I have shown some pieces to my friends and they can’t even tell that they were made using a 3D printer. The quality is THAT good—even with a sub-£500 printer and cheap Chinese PLA filament material.
With bigger models, things get messier. You waste a lot of material and time on things that don’t work out. It may take 20 hours for that piggy bank to print, then you suddenly get an error after 18 hours of printing—and that’s it! You have wasted all that time and material and now you need to start over. Strong nerves are a MUST if you want to get into ANY kind of manufacturing process where machinery is involved! 🙂
However, small items have never presented any problems—never. They print out perfectly, all the time, every time. And you can use the full bed size of your printer to make as many duplicates as you want at the same time. Just switch the button and go do whatever you want. You don’t have to sit nearby while the printer works.
For me, personally, this all started as an experiment. I just wanted to try out it myself to see what 3D printing is all about, and I’m very happy that I did. I will probably give the printer to my kids so they learn to use it and practice making things. Learning technology like this should be a fun and valuable skill, even at the age of eight! 🙂
Thanks for reading my post. I don’t know whether you have noticed, but my last three posts have been more on the lengthy side. That’s because I’m putting more time into each post and I want to share my full thoughts on each subject matter as best I can. For some, they may be too long. It might seem like I ramble too much, but it is what it is, right? LOL! That’s how I roll in real life too. I can speak all day long, no problem, especially if I have a personal interest in the subject matter.
If you have any questions or would like to share a personal experience with 3D printing, I would LOVE to hear from you! Please leave your message in the comments box below. I will personally get back to you within 24 hours, Monday to Friday.
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Hi, like your post.
I have been printing for a while, I only print things that I have designed myself, here is my latest sale on ebay, a full scale electric 3d printed violin, then name is E-lin
Trying to do a business .-)
Looks awesome & good luck with that! 🙂
Hey! I am occasionally reading your blog posts and did not expect to see my scooter part listing in here! 😀 It’s great to have a 3D printer indeed. I sell Xiaomi M365 scooters myself so making 3D parts for the same item helps to bring a bit of extra income on a side.
I have a budget printer (Creality CR-10 mini) and many people say you can’t print TPU/ABS on Bowden machines, but with a bit of modification you can. For example, I have installed this mod https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2144277 and had zero problems so far! I can even use retraction setting, but of course you still get a bit of stringing. While some parts require attention for the first layer (such as rain cover for the scooter’s display to avoid ‘scratches’), the vibration dampers can be left running alone as their functionality is the main purpose. The print times are still quite slow (I use 38 mm/s for TPU), but you can always leave the printer running on a side and just focus on your usual business. Of course it’s difficult to find the right settings when you start out, but after that it is really a fanstastic way of making few hundred quid extra per month.
If you are planning to buy TPU in a future I would recommend Ninjatek Cheetah or SainSmart. 🙂
All the best for you and thank you for constantly sharing your knowledge!
What a coincidence! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, I appreciate it!
And good luck with the business!!!
The problem with 3D printing is that it is too slow.
A part that is 20 cm in high takes 2 hours to print.
So unless you have 10 printers or more you would not make a good profit.
You need a printing farm like J. Prusa has.
Yep, speed is definitely a huge issue right now with MASS 3D printing.
But it’s all technology in progress so I’m sure that print speed will increase in future, no doubt about that! 🙂