How 3D Printing Advances Help Small Businesses

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Roy Rasmussen, co-author of “Publishing for Publicity.” Rasmussen is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales.


In December, San Francisco 3D printing firm Apis Cor used a mobile printer to construct the world’s first on-site 3D-printed home in Stupino, Russia. In cooperation with Russian homebuilder PIK Group, Apis Cor’s printer completed the building envelope, self-bearing walls, and partitions for a 38-square-foot, single-story home in just 24 hours. The house was printed as a whole rather than assembled from prior materials. To use printing ink in sub-freezing weather, a heated tent was used — a technique foreshadowing how 3D printing can be used to build homes at any time of year. All together the home cost $10,134.

Apis Cor’s project illustrates the advances 3D printing has made in recent years and the advantages the technology confers on businesses. Here’s a look at some other ways improvements in 3D printing technology are benefiting small businesses.

Improving Rapid Prototyping Efficiency

One way 3D printing advances have been helping business is making rapid prototyping easier, faster and cheaper. For instance, McLaren Racing recently partnered with 3D printer Stratasys to apply the technology to rapid prototypes for Formula One racecars. Top-level racecars must make fine-tune adjustments between races for optimal performance, meaning that rapid prototyping for parts is required frequently. 3D printing is well-suited to this application because it combines accelerated development capability with the ability to employ a flexible range of materials, such as carbon fiber.

3D printing is popular for rapid prototyping both because of its efficiency and because of the resulting lowered costs. Turbine Technologies was able to cut the average cost of prototype mold manufacturing from $20,000 to $2,000 using 3D printing, while in the process cutting prototype production time from five weeks to one day.

Reducing Material Costs while Expanding Options

In addition to reducing the cost of production, 3D printers can employ a virtually unlimited range of materials for inkjets, ranging from ceramics and metals to plastics and biomaterials, not to mention new synthetic materials and combinations of materials.

For example, Santa Barbara 3D printer ALT has developed a technique for printing multiple types of silicone materials of varying viscosities, hardness and colors, creating rubber-like deposits that can be used for anatomical tissues. O-ring manufacturer Apple Rubber is able to offer customized o-rings in over 7,000 sizes for a wide range of applications in medicine and other fields. Toulouse University Hospital has been able to use 3D printing for customized stints that exactly match the anatomy of patient trachea and bronchi, opening up new possibilities for patients unable to use standard prosthetic devices, 3D Printing Industry reports.

Shortening Assembly Steps

3D printing can also reduce the number of steps required in an assembly line, thus increasing efficiency and lowering costs. Since 3D printing is based on digital designs, molds can take on a virtually unlimited range of shapes, enabling some parts that would have traditionally required multiple molds to be produced in a single step.

Take EOS, for example. The additive manufacturer has helped Swiss nonprofit Devanthro Society to build Roboy, a humanoid robot with capabilities approximating that of the human body. The robot’s entire body was constructed using 3D printing; its hands and forearms were printed as single units, including phalanxes and joints for each finger.

Increasing Agility with Distributed Production and Shipping Centers

Apis Cor’s mobile printer for homes also illustrates the logistical advantages of being able to print products on location; the company’s production process saves in materials storage and transportation costs. Taking advantage of this benefit, shipping companies are starting to combine 3D printing and shipping services as a way to increase shipping speed and give companies greater agility while cutting costs.

UPS, for instance, has leveraged its national network to offer 3D printing at 60 different stores nationwide. In this venture, UPS has partnered with SAP, tapping into the global software company’s supply chain management software to offer an end-to-end solution covering everything from a customer’s initial order to a product’s final delivery. Other carriers, including the U.S. Postal Service, are also looking into the possibilities of integrating 3D printing with logistics.

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Protect Your Business’s Building, Records and Bank Accounts

This post originally appeared on blog.startupdigest.com.

The following is a guest post by Roy Rasmussen, co-author of “Publishing for Publicity.” Rasmussen is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales.


Security — physical, cyber and financial — is a growing concern for today’s small businesses. According to The Hartford’s claims data, theft is the most common type of small business insurance claim; and in terms of cyber attacks, a survey conducted by Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook claims 80 percent of U.S. companies have been successfully hacked.

In this high-risk environment, it’s essential to take proactive measures. Here are some steps you can take to protect your company’s building, business records and bank accounts.

Physical Security

Protecting your business starts with internal security — by watching what goes on inside the workplace. Forty-three percent of revenue lost from theft by U.S. businesses comes from employee theft, according to Deyle and Checkpoint Systems’ Global Retail Theft Barometer.

Cameras

Installing a security camera system can help you keep an eye on what employees are up to. Train your staff in security policies and procedures and let them know you monitor your workplace. Keep track of all keys issued to employees and require employees who leave the company to turn in their keys.

Fences or Locks

You should also take steps to guard against outside intruders. If you have a whole complex, fence it off. If you have a smaller space, sophisticated deadbolts and heavy screens on windows might do the trick. A pin cylinder lock with a deadbolt is the most secure type of lock, says West Bend Mutual Insurance. Use security cameras to monitor entry points, and make sure these entry points are adequately lit. Install an alarm system to alert you and authorities to unauthorized entry attempts.

Cyber Security

Security provider Kroll recommends taking a company-wide — not just an “IT department-wide” — approach to cyber security.

Establish policies that cover everyone who uses your company servers — from employees to third-party vendors. Make this training part of your employee onboarding strategy. When employees leave the company, establish policies for blocking their access to company servers.

Passwords

Train employees in how to choose secure passwords, or assign them passwords. Long character strings with a mixture of alphanumeric and special characters are the most secure.

Using a password manager software program to assign and manage random passwords can strengthen them. Use two-factor authentication to verify users.

Unsecured Connections or Outdated Software

Teach your employees to avoid unsecured connections. This is the first defense against viruses and phishing scams. Make sure all devices connecting to networks are protected by up-to-date versions of operating systems and applications, with antivirus programs running.

Make sure offsite data is stored securely. Develop a plan for how you will respond in the event of a data breach or a lost employee mobile device.

Unnecessary Information

To reduce the risk of a data breach, practice a data minimization policy. Don’t collect data you don’t need, such as customer credit card numbers, which can be handled by a third-party vendor so they’re not processed on your website. Purge your system of sensitive data once it’s no longer required. For instance, don’t retain records with employee Social Security numbers longer than required for legal purposes. Restrict access to sensitive data to personnel who truly need to access it.

Financial Security

To protect your company’s finances, be careful about managing business bank accounts and credit cards.

Business vs Personal

Separate your personal and business finances so that a breach of your business finances does not become a breach of your personal finances or vice versa.

Deposit funds in a business bank account, and make business-related purchases on a dedicated credit card.

Sensitive Paperwork

Protect financial paperwork by storing it in a secure location such as a safe. Establish mail pick-up procedures so that financial paperwork is not left unattended in mailboxes. Shred sensitive financial documents when disposing of them, rather than simply throwing them out in the trash.

PINs and ATM Cards

Shield your PIN number with your body or hand when entering it into an ATM machine. Before using ATMs, check machines for signs of skimming devices, such as sticky residues or adhesives, extra keyboard attachments, or resistance when pressing buttons.

To guard against the event that your finances do suffer a breach, contact your financial provider and law enforcement if you know or suspect your finances have been compromised through identity theft or credit card theft.

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