3 Top Ways Community Managers Can Utilize 3D Printing


The explosive growth of the DIY movement in recent years is hotter than ever as 3D printing continues to decline in price and increase in popularity. New York is a leader in the trend with luminaries such as MakerBot, Shapeways, Etsy and myriad start-ups.

The DIY movement stems from a desire to return the means of production to the every man. Chris Anderson, in his recent book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, dissects the rise of modern manufacturing as it grew to become a huge, proprietary and closed system that favored low costs and standardization over customization and personality. Henry Ford’s famous quote “The Model T comes in any color you like, as long as it’s black” perfectly reflects this sentiment. However, as the means of production are made available to just about anyone through the rapidly decreasing price of hardware such as 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC mills and other advanced technology, the ability for widespread “small batch” product customization and creation becomes a practical reality to fulfill niche market needs.

There are some interesting possibilities for the applications of these technologies to the community management space.

  1. #SWAG. Physical objects can often bring a sense of belonging to a disparate group. What better way to make people feel as though they are part of a larger community than with a custom designed and built object just for them? Become a member of our community and receive a cool, 3D printed object that reminds your members how much they mean to you. You can see a ton of great examples of freely available 3D models on Thingiverse.

  2. Contests! Hold a design contest with your community and 3D print the winning design. Not only will you get some great, free design ideas from the community, but you’ll also energize them with the ability to have their design recognized and brought to reality. Services like Shapeways offer you the ability to fabricate these designs on demand.

  3. Mass Customization. Your community is made up of passionate, unique individuals. 3D printing opens up the ability to cater to each and every one of your community members separately. 3D print their names into a special object! Send them something with their birthday printed into it on their birthday! The options here for customizing things for each community member are endless. Laser cutting is also a great way to add mass customization to things such as name tags, signs, invitations and more.

The options for creative community management projects with these new forms of manufacturing are only limited by your creativity (and your budget!). Get out there and play around with some of these amazing new technologies and let us know what works for you!

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About the author

Blair Gardner

Blair is the cofounder of 3D NYC Lab, a New York based design/build company that specialized in 3D printing, laser cutting and electronics. They work with clients of all sizes to leverage emerging technology and turn ideas into physical products.