3D Printing and Small Business

Star Trek fans will remember the Replicator device that re-created pretty much anything the crew of the Starship Enterprise needed, in seconds and in full dimension. Although we have a long time before we reach the 25th century, today we see the beginnings of the replicator technology in 3D printing. It is already a $1.7 billion galaxy that is projected to expand to $3.7 billion by next year.

3D printing is not new- stereolithography, or solid imaging was invented and patented around 1987 by Chuck Hull; he then founded 3D Systems (3Dsystems.com) and is the company’s chief technology officer. Many advances have been made since, from materials used to printer sizes and capabilities, and the technology is becoming more mainstream. Aside from business applications, consumers and hobbyists can also invest in the software and printers (or upload their digital files to third-party services) and bring their interests to life in a whole new way.

3D in a nutshell
3D printing-called “additive manufacturing” by industrial users-is rendered from a digital model created with computer-assisted design (CAD) or animation modeling software. The file (a cross-sectioned image) is uploaded to the printer, which transforms the virtual blueprint into the object. Layer by layer, the printer builds the object by passing over a platform where the material is transferred (sprayed, squeezed or by other conveyance) in thin sheets; it is then fused together to make the final product. The materials used are rubber, plastics, paper, metals, and polyurethane-like materials.

3D makes it fast and for less
Barring the expense of the 3D printers (more on those later), companies can use this technology for “rapid prototyping,” creating models and product prototypes in a few days as opposed to outsourcing the work and waiting a few weeks. Traditional supply chains and production methods will eventually be transformed, at least for certain industries, as mold making and other production tooling is undertaken on site by the manufacturers and designers. By circumventing the old prototype process, users have greater control over their projects.

Industrial applications
As noted above, additive manufacturing has tremendous potential in manufacturing, to create rapid prototypes that enable corporations to test and improve their product design (and bring finished inventory to market more quickly).

According to Bloomberg Businessweek aerospace and automotive industries have been using 3D printing for at least 25 years. In fact, as reported in PC World in October 2013, Boeing is making small parts for some of its planes via additive manufacturing, such as air duct components and wiring covers, and also uses the technology with metal to produce prototype parts for a variety of tests. Boeing hopes to scale up its processes in order to build larger, structural components for military and commercial aircraft. As equipment gets bigger to handle large titanium structures, there’s no telling where this technology will lead. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been using additive manufacturing to test new concept parts for spacecrafts.

Auto makers can produce prototypes of all sorts of auto parts and concept car components with relative ease and greater control; they are able to tweak the models, easily create one-off production pieces, adjust the specifications, and create models with much faster turnaround time.

In some cases, for small-scale manufacturers, the printers can also be used to make the final product but this would be for low-volume work.

3D in health care

3D printing has already been put to work in medical and dental labs to fabricate:

• Prosthetic devices, casts and braces.
• Hearing aids (ear molds and device shells)
• Lab instruments.
• Titanium body parts.
• Certain dental appliances (crowns, bridges, temporaries- are teeth next?).

By printing replicas of body parts, surgeons are able to do a dry run of complex surgical procedures on joints, bones or organs, thereby reducing the time the patient is under anesthesia as well as perfecting their technique. This results in better patient outcomes.

Creative agencies, designers and builders

Ad agencies and marketing firms can have a lot of fun with this technology. Imagine being able to create and print:

• Product prototypes and models for focus groups or sales demonstrations.
• Three-dimensional, custom promotional materials as giveaways or premiums.
• Dimensional client gifts.
• Automated animatronics displays.
• Toys, figurines and dolls.
• Plastic bottles, packaging.
• Android robots for live automated sales pitches.

Applications of the technology are seen in other creative fields. Jewelers can create molds or design concepts, sculptors can develop templates or previews of their artistic visions, and architects and builders can create 3D models of their projects in a fraction of the time it typically takes, with great precision. Large-format (very large) concrete printers can create large-scale structural and architectural components. For those who work with food, there are now printers that can print in cheese or chocolate. Home hobbyists are designing and printing their own toys, models and household objects.

Printer options

The big cost in 3D printing is the printer. Commercial/industrial printers can cost upwards of $1 million but the average price is about $75,000, depending on size and capacity. For consumers, prices ranges between $1500 and $3000; some models are available for just under $1000. This is still a high-priced piece of equipment for many small businesses and consumers. Since this is all still relatively new for many companies, do your research or hire an IT expert who has the experience or knowledge to advise you on the best 3D printer (and software) for your needs.

If this is not in your budget, there are affordable third-party online 3D printing services-simply upload your file and specifications and your item will be rendered and shipped to you. There is even an open source 3D printing community ([email protected]) that will handle your project.

A Guide to Pilates Equipment

There are endless options for exercise videos and equipment that you can buy to use in your home, if you are trying to shed weight and shape up. However, care must be taken that you do not concentrate on just one part of your body.

The most popular of all equipment is the Pilates Reformer. It is a sophisticated system of springs, straps and pulleys. You can perform more than 100 exercises on this versatile piece of equipment.

There is a gliding platform on which one can sit, kneel, stand or lie on the front, back or side. There is a foot bar which is pushed and pulled by the user using the arms, legs, wrists and ankles to slide back and forth along the rails in a controlled manner.

The Pilates Reformer is recommended for establishing torso stability and postural alignment. The adjustable springs allow for progressive resistance, which helps to lengthen and strengthen the muscles.

The Reformer is a fixture in Pilates studios and gyms as well as places like rehabilitation clinics. A more economical, compact, and portable model such as the Allegro is available to cater towards group classes.

Prices are in the $2000-$4000 range for various models of quality Reformers.

Another popular piece of equipment is the Pilates Cadillac, which is also known as ‘The Rack’ and ‘Trapeze Table.” It is one of the most effective and versatile pieces of exercise equipment, and is a bridge between exercise and physical therapy.

The Cadillac is a raised horizontal table-top surrounded by a four-poster frame on which various bars, straps, springs and levers are fixed. Standard models include a push-through bar (which can be sprung from above or below), a roll-down bar, a trapeze or cross bar, arm springs, leg springs, thigh and ankle cuffs and even fuzzy hanging loops.

Several manufacturers have combined the Reformer and Cadillac to make hybrid models.

There is also Pilates Chair, also known as the Wunda Chair, for carrying out more than 75 exercises involving push-up-like moves with the arms. The price of a basic Pilates Chair starts at around $700 but can be more than $1200.

Pilates Ladder Barrels, consisting of ladder-like rungs and a rounded barrel-like surface, enable a multitude of stretching, strengthening and flexibility exercises. Professional-quality ladder barrels come in the $900 to $1500 range.

For mat workouts, there are Pilates Arc Barrels, which are upholstered arches that help support the back and shoulders. They are great rehabilitative tools for those recovering from stress, tension or injury. They range in price from $130 to $230.

The Pilates Spine Corrector has a sort of a whistle shape, with a semi-circular arch plus an angled step or seat. The unit is effective for stretching the spine and shoulders in a way that is safe, stable, and supported. Pricing is in the $300 to $450 range.

Commercial Bridging Loans and Mortgages For Acquisition Finance

Acquisition finance is one of the most serious aspects of business financing. When one company needs to acquire another for strategic purposes, it always has to face the big question of financing. Venture capitalists may be an option, but it usually takes a lot of time to woo them. Due to the economic turmoil of the recent past, they are being extremely cautious, and it’s usually not easy to convince them for acquisition finance. Entrepreneurs all over the world are grappling with the problem of financing for even general purposes.

Commercial bridging loans

Commercial bridging loans are one of the best options for meeting your short term financing needs. Generally, these can be taken for 3 years, and can be obtained easily. All you need to do is show them some relevant assets and reasonably progressive balance sheets. These loans can take care of all your short term finances. You could invest in adding new capacity, machinery and technologies to your business and stay ahead of competition. You could also take a commercial loan on a mortgage. Commercial mortgages had become unpopular in the past, but with real estate looking up, you will get a very good deal on your loan. It will help you reduce the interest rates, and provide as a sweetener.

Cash flow finance

Working capital and cash flow finance is yet another important area for all businessmen. While running a business, you would need a lot of money to be able to sustain your needs for new equipment, maintenance and repairs and employee’s salaries to keep the production levels up. This is especially true if you have a B2B model. It will take some time before you cash in on your accounts receivable. For companies manufacturing steel, oil and so on, the average receivable periods are very high. This is because most of their clients also manufacture goods that are generally slow moving, and take some more levels to reach the final customer who will pay in cash. But since businesses cannot stall their production levels waiting for finance, commercial loans are their best bets. You can easily get this type of financing. It is faster than approaching Venture capitalists, and it is definitely faster than raising equity.

A word of caution would be prudent here. Before you approach a mortgage broker, ensure that he is a certified broker, and an established one. Have your papers pulled up by a qualified lawyer, and carefully go over the terms and conditions. You could go for self certification mortgages too, which are mostly based on your monthly income. In this case, the broker will examine your company’s annual income and then give you a deal.