Exhibiting at trade shows can be quite rewarding for companies. Unfortunately, it can also be quite expensive and stressful.

Transporting and staging large equipment can consume a significant portion of a company's marketing budget, especially when international shipping is involved. But businesses are starting to adopt 3-D printing techniques to get to-scale, full-color prototypes and models of their products that can easily be carried to and displayed on site for far less cost.

3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, makes a solid object using a CAD model that directs a printer to apply hundreds to thousands of successive layers of material to build the required shape. Because CAD or BIM files often already exist for machinery, it is a fairly straightforward process to modify the size, shape and color of the model being printed to achieve the desired effect.

Custom replicas often range from 1-15 inches and come in a choice of nearly 40,000 colors. Popular materials that can now be printed include composites, plastics and metals. On industrial printers, higher resolution ensures better detail and features. Textures and pictures can be imported onto the item's walls — and models can even be designed with moving components printed as a single piece requiring no assembly.

Cornell Pump Company, an additive manufacturing advocate based in Oregon, produces large industrial equipment and attends over a dozen trade shows every year for food processing, mining, agriculture and other industries that require pumping.

While Cornell had great success shipping and displaying their actual pumps for view at these shows, the cost, time and inconvenience of transporting and staging equipment prompted them to explore 3-D-printed models. Michael Roberts, Cornell's marketing manager, has observed that 3-D printing is "a competitive advantage in explaining our products to current distributors, as well as in attracting prospective customers."

Because Cornell wanted a way to show potential customers the inner mechanics of the pumps in an attention-getting way, they had tabletop models of their large units made with color coding and cutaways. Customers can now see the inner components and compare the colors with a labeled legend near the pump.

Seeing the 3-D-printed colored replica also draws the attention of browsing show attendees. And now, the ceramic model is simply carried under the arm of a sales representative to the next trade show or prospective customer, eliminating the need for expensive shipping.