Scaling a 3D printing business

December 12, 2023

Here you are, you just recently bought your 3D printer and you are full of enthusiasm. You already have it set up (after much trial and error), you have printed a few not-so-useful designs (but at least they look nice) for friends and family and you are ready to scale to a profitable 3D printing empire. 

The process is very straightforward after all, isn’t it? If you really thought that, you couldn’t be further from the truth!

You have to be aware of the differences between starting and scaling a 3D printing business if you want to maintain profit and high-quality service. After all, there is no point in scaling if one of those goes out the window.

Is it easy to scale a 3D printing business?

3D printing is not a very easy business to go into. You need to have a wealth of specific knowledge about how to operate a 3D printer (often they are not the most user-friendly tech), how to deal with 3D files (many times clients will want you to make a little edit here and there), how to work with different materials and what’s the best one to use for a certain situation, on top of all the other business stuff like dealing with customers, marketing, sales, service delivery, etc.

Scaling such a business requires setting your mind on the type of business you want to run, SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), software, different tools, and good management in general. 

These are all things beginners don’t even think about and wonder why they are having a hard time with their business, while Joe is killing it and running a print farm with 94 3D printers.

Let us tell you everything you need to know about how to operate and scale a profitable 3D printing business. Are you ready?

Print farm under construction
Image credit: Tensaiteki via Reddit

Before we begin

This guide is about scaling a 3D printing business, not starting. We expect you to already have some experience with 3D printing and delivering this service to paying clients.

What kind of 3D printing business?

More often than not, many business owners think about this way too late. They have already acquired a bunch of random clients, and their work schedule is full of a variety of tasks. Does it sound like a good position to be in if you want to scale your business? Not really.

The problem with having clients from different niches to whom you are offering different services is that you won’t be able to standardize the process of fulfillment. It might be good at first to gain new clients fast but try to get away from it as soon as possible. Don’t get into the trap of serving everything to everyone.

You would be in a much better position if you were to offer one specific niche one service. 

This will allow you to have:

  • Advantage over your competitors who are serving everything to everyone
  • The opportunity to set your rates and not compete based on price alone
  • Standardize the process of fulfillment and deliver better service faster

Of course, this is somewhat of a dream scenario. Sometimes you have to take all the business that comes your way just so you stay above water. But once you are over that period, be mindful about who you take on as a client.

3D Printing SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)

What are SOPs and why do you need them?

SOPs are a set of written instructions that describe the step-by-step process that must be taken to properly perform a routine activity. Following them guarantees that the outcome will be the same every single time. 

Nobody likes to deal with inconsistent businesses. Your 3D prints should have almost no deviation from one another if you want to seem like a reliable business, people can count on.

SOPs will help you when: 

  • Work becomes too much and you are more prone to missing steps of the procedure
  • You hire someone to take on some of your tasks

How to write a 3D printing SOP?

Well, there’s no one way to do this. The main goal is to keep it brief and easy to understand. 

The main things to include are:

  • Each task that needs to be done in chronological order
  • Expected outcome after each task

SOPs should be analyzed and updated every once in a while, especially when something new is introduced to the business - software, a tool, etc.

3D printing business tools

There are different categories of software related to 3D printing. However, if you have already started a business you should have in place a good slicer and hopefully something to edit 3D files.

These are the basics, we will cover more advanced stuff.

A big part of a 3D printing business is giving quotes to customer inquiries. If you are doing it manually, you are potentially wasting hours and hours of your time for something that can be completely automated. 

One such tool is which will do all the work for you, avoiding slow response time and hours of manual labor. 

It is a web plugin that you can put on your website and it gives an instant response to the most important question that most leads have - “How much does it cost?”. This software is packed full of features that you won’t find anywhere in a single package. It has a 3D viewer, direct price estimation and quotation in PDF, no coding implementation, and more features that can benefit your service delivery.

3d printing business tool

Manufacturing tools for 3D printing

3D printing is a type of business that exists both in the physical and digital realm. As such you should not only look for different software to help your workflow but tools as well. 

Of course, depending on the exact services you offer and the niches you serve, these tools might be vastly different. 

If you are running a print farm, it might be wise to first upgrade the essential tools that you use on an everyday basis like print-removal blade, screwdrivers, and hex keys. The ones that come with 3D printers more often than not are very low-quality and are not reliable.

Some examples of useful tools for 3D printing are:

  • Speaker - will make work much more enjoyable
  • Pliers and tweezers - pick a hot nozzle or small parts like screws from V-slot extrusion, remove support material
  • Soldering iron - to solder wires for 3D printing projects with electronic components, to bond/smooth 3D printed models printed in PLA or PETG
  • Caliper - accurately measure designs and perform dimensional tests on your printer to help tune your e-steps and flow settings
  • Sandpaper - blends the different layers and achieves a smooth finish
  • Rotary tool - used for cutting, sanding, polishing, drilling, engraving, carving, grinding, and more
  • Filament storage - provides a controlled environment for filament spools to ensure unchanged quality of the 3D printing material
  • Air purifier - the usefulness depends on factors like where is the printer located and what materials you are printing
Tools for 3D printing
Image credit: zerneo85 via Reddit

Management of a 3D printing farm

Time management

A very important skill in every aspect of your life, especially if you are trying to scale a profitable 3D printing business.

You should know how much time each task takes and plan your schedule accordingly. 

Try to keep the time your printers are not working to a minimum by taking into consideration when a print will end, so you can immediately start the next one. 

Space management

What does your workspace look like? Is it a mess that you can’t seem to find how to sort?

Everything in your workspace should be there for a purpose.

Set aside a few hours if you need to but try to organize your workspace the best way you can. You will reap the benefits for a long time into the future. 

organized 3d printing work space
Image credit: emelbard via Reddit

Risk management

3D printers are full of electronics. And do you know what electronics do sometimes? Catch fire, unfortunately.

Once you have established your workspace and have built a 3D printing farm, you should seriously look into how to best prevent fire hazards.

burned printer
Image credit: bethlenke via Reddit

Take-away of scaling a 3D printing business

Starting a profitable 3D business is hard and many enthusiasts go underwater in the first months. But even if you pass that period, scaling such business requires a vastly different approach.

While you may get away with certain aspects of your business being suboptimal in the beginning, when you get to the point of scaling everything should be as efficient as possible.

Key things to keep in mind are:

  • Being clear to whom you are offering services and what services exactly 
  • Having standard operating procedures in place for when work gets too much, and keeping the quality consistent becomes
  • Using software that will reduce time spent in manual labor
  • Having the right tools to make working more enjoyable and the output better quality
  • Managing all the different aspects of your business in a mindful manner