The 3D Printing Questions Accelerators & Incubators should ask
There are many accelerators and incubators out there. It’s a growing trend and for each niche market, you can be sure you’ll find just the one you need. Over a series of different posts, we covered the “accelerator” question under different angles. We covered the “19 Best Hardware Accelerators to Launch your Biz”. We wrote on “how you should choose your hardware incubator”. We built partnerships with different places both in San Francisco and Paris, but we never asked the key questions those places should ask when a 3D printing project comes to their doors. Let’s save you some time and give them to you right now. You should pick the place that has the right answers for you.
Have you ever 3D printed something before?
That might be obvious, but nonetheless, it’s a fair question to ask yourself. If you want to launch a business that revolves around 3D printing, the first thing that you should do is to experiment with the technology under all its forms.
- The production or curation of your 3D files.
It’s a critical dimension of any 3D printing project. Whether it’s because you’ll be making 3D files for your products, on-demand as a service to your clients, or by sourcing 3D files from online users, you should know the constraints of working with a 3D file that can be printable. There are some rules that you should follow to make sure your 3D data will be easy to 3D print. If you want to know more about this rules, you can either consult our general design guidelines or take a look at our tutorial series for different 3D modeling software.
In any case, it means that you’ll need a professional (and a software solution), who can assist you in creating the 3D printable content you need.
If you’re planning on releasing a platform for 3D content, don’t overlook that fact too. The 3D content you’ll be gathering has to be high quality, original and printable. There are now a lot of different platforms out there for 3D content, and the space is becoming more and more crowded. Think how you can differentiate yourself.
- The 3D printing itself
3D printing is shifting from a prototyping only technology to a production technology. There are now numerous companies from various sectors that have integrated 3D printing into their production processes. To do so, however, they spend a lot of time figuring out how and why they’ll use 3D printing.
To gain some knowledge about this, it’s important to start 3D printing things for yourselves as much as you can. You need to begin at the very bottom of the 3D printing offer with a regular desktop 3D printer and try the most advanced 3D printing technology as well. For that going to a maker space and using a 3D printing service is probably the best approach. It will allow you to determine key factor for your projects:
- the time it takes to 3D print a product vs. a large amount of goods
- the quality of the 3D prints you should aim for
- the price of your 3D printed parts
- the failure rate during production depending on the technology
- the different material you can use
When you are going to an incubator or an accelerator with your 3D printing project, none all of them will have those specific in mind. Don’t overestimate their ability to guide you on those topics. If you find a place that has this kind of knowledge, you should definitely use it. And if you can’t find it, then consider that you’ll need resources to answer those questions.
How many additive manufacturing technologies can you mention?
3D printing is not a homogeneous process. Inside the big additive manufacturing family, there are lots of different processes that all have their strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your project, one technology or the other might be more suited. To know which one you should choose, you’ll need guidance from individuals who used the technologies intensively in the past or to leanr it yourself the hard way.
The good way to go is to find a place that can deliver as many technologies as possible. That way you’ll probably find people who know a thing or two about additive manufacturing, and you’ll be able to experience it yourself. You might not be the one doing the production over time, but since producing with 3D printing is just taking off, this is not something you can overlook and delegate without knowledge.
Working closely with a 3D printing service can also be a solution. In any cases, if you want to know more about the technologies, you can consult our page referencing the different additive manufacturing technologies (including the most recent one like CLIP) and to go even further it might be useful to gain a quick knowledge of all the material you’ll be able to 3D print with them.
For that, we just have our 3D printing material bible.
Do you know enough about the sector?
You are embarking in a journey in which there are many unknowns. 3D printing is a sector that is evolving at an incredible pace, and things that were unthinkable only five years ago are already happening.
It raises the question of your current knowledge of the 3D printing sector. Do you know it well enough to assess what is coming and the changes that can be both an opportunity or a threat to your future business?
There are only a limited numbers of accelerators or incubators that will have all those answers for you. And this is not their job. Their job is to advise you on what you should know and look out for. This means you’ll need to make research to understand the sector and its potential, but also follow the updates and major launches that are happening faster and faster.
This might be a little bit old, but about a year ago we published a post about the 3D printing market and the different serious studies you can find on the topic. It’s worth it to give it a look. You can also dig into the Wholers report, and of course our State of 3D printing. Our 2016 edition will be out soon.
To keep up to date with the sector, we also package various 3d printing resources in a blog post that can be helpful. You’ll find the go-to website for information, influencers, or even event.
Since good news doesn’t come alone, here is a free calendar of the different event for 2016.
Do you know where additive manufacturing has a competitive advantage?
3D printing will not replace other means of manufacturing. It should rather be seen as another manufacturing method that has specific applications. Under certain circumstances, additive manufacturing is particularly effective. In order to be effective yourself in your project, you should be able to understand the different means of manufacturing that are at your disposal and when you should use one or the other.
To guide you in this quest of the perfect manufacturing method, we created an ebook dedicated to the 4 areas where 3D printing is unbeatable. It gives you some insights on when 3D printing is the best way to go. If you want a heads up, here are the four areas:
- complex geometries
- mass customization
- integrated assembly
- engineering redesign
Do you know other means of manufacturing?
Directly related to the previous question, any serious accelerator or incubators should be able to argue with you on whether 3D printing is the good option or not. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily have the answer. However, they can for sure point out the weaknesses in your strategy. One of them would be to consider additive manufacturing only as the go-to solution.
In fact, they should ask about your “manufacturing mix.” It means, what are the different technologies you’re going to use? And to do what? During the prototyping phase, 3D printing will not be the solution to every problem. For instance, you might have to develop real material prototypes to create functional products and qualify them. If the material you are looking for isn’t directly available in 3D printing, then you’ll need to find another. Same goes for the tolerances or any other property.
In this post, we are summing up different other manufacturing techniques that can also be helpful when developing a project.
You shouldn’t overlook laser cutting as well.
Have you identified similar projects that use 3D printing?
3D printing is a great opportunity to innovate within a sector that hasn’t much innovation in a while. This is the case of companies like Normal or Sols for instance. But this comes at a certain price. Being the first to innovate within a sector means to invest quite a few dollars in engineering to create and industrialize a new technology.
If we take Sols’ example (a company that provides 3D printed customize insoles for your shoes), they needed to create both a software solution and develop a product based on 3D printing before they were able to attract their first customer.
It means that being the first to get there is a big opportunity, but you’ll need the internal resources to innovate.
Identifying similar projects and learning from them is a good way to save time and maybe avoid to make the same mistakes.