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Ever considered starting your own manufacturing business? Well, maybe you should. This exciting trend isn’t new anymore but sadly it hasn’t been embraced so much in this part of the world for so many obvious reasons which I am going to share with you (Update: it still hasn’t been embraced in this part of the world and this is an opportunity). I wrote an article on 3D Printing in 2016 with so much expectation from this technology with regards to its utilization and the potential role it could play in the rapid industrialization of the most populous black nation on earth.

A Sad Reality

Unfortunately, 3D printing hasn’t caught up as much as I had expected with us folks in Nigeria, it still sounds like something out of Star Trek to a lot of “educated people”, even those fronting their Engineering degrees on social by adding Engr. to their name (not shading anyone in particular after all I’m also an Engineer).

Sometimes I wonder if our leaders intentionally keep the youths malnourished intellectually in order to continue taking advantage of them (honestly, I’m not even wondering anymore, I’m sure that is what they are doing).

3D printed building model
3D Printed model of a building

First Encounter

When I first came across 3D printing technology in 2015 I was absolutely stunned by its simplicity and yet its potential to solve some really complex problems, the innovation is simply noteworthy. Four years on (Update: five years now) and I’m still yet to find a single company specialized in printing 3D designs, prototypes, models, replacement parts for machines, or simple action figures.

It wasn’t until my drone crash-landed and broke the camera gimbal that I knew the importance of owning or having access to a 3D printer. The replacement part was going to cost me $260 excluding the cost of shipping and customs duty. The total would have gotten me a used drone. The other day my TV stand broke (you know those legs attached at the bottom of a TV set), I couldn’t possibly walk into a dealership requesting a “TV leg” because they don’t usually keep those kinds of things in their inventory. I mean they aren’t the manufacturers, just franchise marketers I guess.

The Smell of Opportunity

Can you imagine how many people have discarded an item because they couldn’t find a small replacement part? I mean that’s a whole market segment wasting away (the businessman in me started thinking). I’m not going to spill till I’m certain of my market and how willing they are to spend a small amount of money to relieve that giant pain in their butts

(Update: I did my research and my people are not quite ready but there are opportunities emerging since the outbreak of COVID, some amazing people have made open-source 3D printed ventilator designs available to the public). My take on this is that a lot of smart investors will see opportunities in this for developing countries and cash out during or after this pandemic.

NASA Sends 3D Printer to Space

NASA Astronaut Barry Wilmore holding a 3D printed ratchet wrench aboard the ISS. Source: NASA
Astronaut Barry Wilmore holding a 3D printed ratchet wrench created aboard the ISS. Source: NASA

3D printing is so cool and practical that NASA sent a 3D Printer to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014 and it has been used to print replacement parts and tools. This saves money and time, imagine launching a rocket just so you can send a ratchet for the engineers at the ISS to work with. The operational cost of launching a rocket is about $103 million and bigger rockets cost as much as $500 million per launch (that’s the annual expenditure of some countries lol- I kid you not). Although the cost is reducing significantly due to the participation of private sector companies like Space X which manages to spend $60 million only per launch (this is still too expensive to send a replacement part that’ll probably cost a few hundred bucks up to the space station).

The ones that tried but gave up

A few years ago a company was scanning and printing 3D images of people at Port Harcourt Mall at a steep price, as mind-blowing as a 7-inch miniature replica of yourself might seem, it didn’t seem to please most customers (plus I could get the same 7-inch figurine of myself from Aliexpress for about 20% of their fee). Well the next time I visited the mall just a few months after, I didn’t see them there.

Different strokes for different folks

There are certain products that don’t sell well in certain markets. If you want to sell vanity items such as a 3D printed image of yourself or a hand-sketched portrait, you may not find your ideal customer at the mall (you may). But if you’re selling ready-to-use items like clothing, electronics, food, etc then the mall is the right place for that. There are certain factors to consider when setting up a 3D Printing business, listed below are a few factors based on observation:

  1. Pricing: Setting a steep price for a new innovative product/ service can really slow down the growth of that business especially in Nigeria. Conduct customer surveys, read up case studies on similar businesses and how they broke into the market, consult with experts in that industry, etc. (If you are the pioneer then you can determine the pricing considerably, but if there’s competition then you have to take them into account.)
  2. Location: The location picked for that 3D printing business was quite good considering the volume of people that visit the mall daily and especially during the weekends. Unfortunately, the target market and services rendered were aimed at the wrong market. which brings me to my next point.
  3. Target market: 3D printing is mostly used in additive manufacturing, engineering and tech-inclined spheres for now, although there have been advances that point in the medical usage we await news eagerly about breakthroughs in the medical application of 3D printing. The market they should have targetted was the oil and gas sector since it comprises mostly engineering and technical services, 3D printing could easily be integrated into reproducing broken equipment parts which cost a lot of money to buy and import.
  4. Marketing: You could do all the above correctly and still miss out on the bulk of your customers if you do not have a good marketing strategy. Marketing is the lifeline of a business, your products and services need to be seen before customers can come to you, they need to know about what you do. It is also important to state the advantage of digital marketing and the cost-effectiveness in terms of returns and reach.

You can learn more about taking your business online here

Areas where 3D Printing is used today:

  1. Manufacturing
  2. Design & Prototyping
  3. Architecture
  4. Medicine
  5. Fashion
  6. Military
  7. Engineering
  8. Education
  9. Arts

The list goes on, there isn’t an industry I can think of that cannot benefit from 3D printing. It is resourceful and it is already being used across the world to build houses in China, make a functional car by MIT, print prosthetic legs and hands, some even found nefarious ways to use it by printing a gun, the list goes on.

Abraham Lincoln once said that the best way to predict the future is by creating it. Let’s create a bright future for generations unborn.

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