3D Printing and What it Means for the Hardware Industry

The Cube is a home 3D printer that starts at $1,299 and allows the user to print objects up to 5.5" x 5.5" x 5.5". Photo courtesy of Cubify.
 

Imagine you could print out a hammer, a screw, a loose knob on your coffee maker, even a car. Now imagine your customers could do the same. What will happen when they can build their own pieces without setting foot in your hardware store?

That’s the peril of 3D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing.” With digital product data, the printers create a three-dimensional structure of just about anything you want. Objects can be printed in plastic jet-printing ink or fused modeling. You can print anything from guns to jewelry to hardware tools.

If your hardware store were to get a 3D printer, it could sell replacement parts for discontinued products without going through a manufacturer.

Additive manufacturing has been around for 30 years, but it’s only recently been made commercially available to consumers. But the price of a 3D printer and material, although it has dropped, is hardly affordable for a household. Makerbot retails at $2,199, not including the printing material. The Cube is a little more affordable, starting at $1,299. Here’s a complete list compiled by Engadget of the 3D printers currently available for consumers. Online 3D printing services, such as Shapeaways, are another viable option for consumers who want to create their own products.

Could your hardware store be heavily affected in the future by 3D printing? How can you think ahead to avoid it? If your hardware store were to get a 3D printer, it could sell replacement parts for discontinued products without going through a manufacturer. It would definitely quicken the process. Or you could offer online 3D printing services to your customers, the same way digital photography services work.

There’s a spectrum of opportunity surrounding 3D printing. It’s all about getting creative with the technology to serve your customers’ needs.

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Anita Ferrer
Anita Ferrer is a contributor to The National Hardware Show Industry Edge. More »