Judging by the content of lunch room refrigerators, peanut butter and jelly was historically the most popular mashup in manufacturing. But that combination is being knocked from its throne by two powerful forces meant for each other: 3D Printing and the Sharing Economy.

The “terrible two’s” culture of “I want what I want when I want it” has spread to all generations. 3 D printing is perfect for meeting that demand.

The sharing economy reflects a commitment to avoid investment in infrastructure whenever possible. That too is a perfect match with 3D printing.

You simply need to decide which role you will play.

Some companies will choose to invest in 3D printing capabilities and provide contract programming, design, materials, and printing—focused on small lots, often of one. This strategy can be a new business, or added to an existing operation.

  • Those same companies can be hired by manufacturers to expose and develop the skills manufacturing so desperately needs.
  • They may also use contracting to counter seasonality of core business.
  • Selling service of equipment is another natural fit.

Others will choose the opposite track, investing as little as possible in the technology while utilizing it to meet market needs.

Those who choose the first path will face objections from those impacted by the disruption. For example, Uber has faced relentless opposition until ‘if you can't beat’em, join ‘em’ thinking reaches each market it has entered. This path requires that you build critical mass quickly so you can overcome those protecting their turf.

Those who choose the second path simply need to stay aware of capabilities and then choose 3D printers as they would any other partner supplier.

Within the next 12-18 months, pick a side."

Yes, desktop 3D printing capabilities are becoming very affordable, but for the next five years that will be for hobbyists and those building a small specialized parts business. Mixed and multiple materials are simply too complicated for most do-it-yourself environments.

Within the next 12-18 months, pick a side. Either provide 3D printing capabilities to those wanting to purchase in the sharing economy, or be one of the latter.

If you wait longer, someone else will choose for you