How to Get Your 3D Printing Business Off the Ground
Entering the emerging field of 3D printing can be daunting, but there are some key ways to ensure your business's success.
With the leaps and bound technology is advancing, a new realm of opportunity has emerged in the field of 3D printing. Being utilised to print anything from sunglasses to prosthetic limbs, the opportunity for growth in this burgeoning market remains steady.
There are typical key points to developing any start-up business. Here are some additional concepts, unique to the 3D printing business, you’ll need to consider.
Registering your business
When registering your business, you will need to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN) to legally trade. You may also wish to apply for a business name.
Whether you register the business as the sole trader, a partnership or as a company will affect how you pay tax, are liable to debt and receive profits.
As a sole trader, these business functions run through only you, with your personal income being taxed, whereas within a partnership the burdens and profits are split. A partnership will also require you to register a Tax File Number (TFN).
Registering your business as a company will allow you to take on investors and distribute ownership amongst multiple parties. Under this, tax and debt will be tied to the company itself and not to you personally. Take note that financial reporting is far more stringent under this.
3D Printing Software
You may have that one great idea, but before you can start 3D printing anything you’ll need to design it first. Hiring the right designers is one thing, but the proverb ‘a carpenter can’t blame his tools’ doesn’t really apply here. While free-open source software for designing your 3D models exists, you may want to consider licensing modelling tools.
Licensing involves paying a company a subscription to use their software for a period of time.
Of course, you’ll potentially need to balance your spending closely at the start of your business.
However, the benefits of licensed modelling programs generally entail more options for more advanced designers, allowing you to create the highest quality works.
The Business Model
Many 3D printing businesses act as boutiques, waiting for customers to approach them with requests. If you take this route you will still retain obligations as a manufacturer, but the process may involve the consumer specifying the product and their expectations.
In this scenario, your business will likely require some standardised contracts to be developed for your customers. Make sure that they include all the necessary terms and conditions regarding the delivery of your service will avoid unnecessary complications and ensure efficient transactions.
Under this, you will likely want to purchase the 3D printer outright. This way you can control production closely. Keep a note of the warranty on the machine. Under this, you retain rights in case of a malfunction and to have parts or entire machine replaced under certain conditions.
Make it clear to whoever you are purchasing off how you intend to use the machine or to what specifications you require. Under the law, you have a right that the printer meets these expectations when made clear. These machines aren’t cheap after all.
If you intend to mass-produce products to a consumer base take note of your potential liabilities as a manufacturer under Australian Consumer Law. Your customers/consumers don’t have to enter individual contracts with you to retain rights and expectations of your product.
Something often not considered by new companies is the opportunity to outsource to production companies rather than developing projects in-house. Companies already exist where warehouses of printers may be employed, for a fee, to print whatever you request.
Here, contracting alleviates a lot of the issues of production requiring you only to employ designers, rather than buying the printers outright.
Regardless of your decision, you should familiarise yourself with your rights under your states relevant laws regarding business to business transactions (in NSW this is under the Sale of Goods Act 1923 (NSW)).
Through Australian Intellectual Property (IP) law, whatever is designed using 3D software can be protected from piracy through government registration.
For the same reason you trademark your company’s name to protect copy-cats, you should protect all your design and product assets.
Regardless of what software you use, provided you create a unique asset you are entitled to protect it. Under IP law, protection is separated depending on what kind of property it is. Relevant to 3D printing is patent protection (for inventions), trademark (for the marketing of your product) and design protection.
What classification your design falls under is extremely important within the registration process. It is therefore important to contact a lawyer to consider what the best plan of action is.
A new 3D printing business provides a chance to enter a new, largely untapped field in Australia. The opportunities to create the next big thing in a variety of fields is one more business is taking.
Yet, atypical legal factors follow this field and legal consultation is likely necessary to ensure you are aware of all your rights and obligations within this enterprise.
Daniel is a Legal Tech Intern at Lawpath. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Business at the University of Technology Sydney. His principal fields of interest are in commercial, corporate and intellectual property law.