Most Kickstarters are really just a market validation. Proof that there are people out there who will buy your product if you create. But a Kickstarter generally doesn't really make much money, After all of the launch costs and production of preorders, most kickstarters are lucky if they break even.
This problem is even more pronounced for hardware projects, when, once funded, the team has to pay for molds (thousands of dollars) fight production delays, and pay for inventory. It is not cheap, And while Kickstarter gives you a "kickstart" if doesn't fund much of this unless your campaign is wildly successful and the product is ready for production.
But what if molding and inventory wasn't a problem? With the growth of 3D printing farms, which can produce at volumes comparable to injection molding, there is really little reason to use molds, especially when you are just starting out.
3D Printing does not have a minimum volume of production, and if you are working with a good farm, the set-up fees will be minimal. For kickstarters, which generally only have a few thousand units to produce this can be godsend.
Now there is a question of cost. Most people perceive 3D printing has been a very expensive alternative, especially on a per unit basis compared to molds. Actually, at this moment production 3D printing is only about 1-1.5 times more expensive than injection molding. If you were going to pay 50 cents per unit for injection molded parts, there is good chance you can get the same part 3D printed for about $1.00 to $1.50. This is not a bad option when you are faced with the choice of using all of your funding to produce the parts for your backers, or using all of your funding to jsut get set-up to produce the parts for your kickstarter with molds.
Overall, 3D printing is a great method for getting your first few runs of production out the door. It is is fast, affordable, and give you flexibility and security when you are starting out. Molds are a large investment and risk that just get you ready to start.
Littlebots is a great example of using 3D printing to start and grow a Kickstarted business.
The LittleBots are a family of 3D printed educational robotics kits. Each one of the 5 kits was put through Kickstarter. Every plastic part was 3D printed by Slant 3D. At this point, the LittleBots' LittleArm is one of the most popular robotics kits in the world and is still fully 3D printed.
LittleBots uses 3D printing partly because they wanted their kits to be modifiable, both by their customers and by themselves. They have created 5 separate kits and each kit is constantly upgrading. Having the kits be 3D printed allows LittleBots to develop and market new kits without any more investment than a prototype and a video to get started. Their start-up costs are minimal, and their manufacturing costs are only that of the parts, no tooling.
Using 3D printing LittleBots is able to reliable manufacture new kits, without having to worry about storing inventory, or worrying about molds being wasted because of a mistake in the design. They can also have a product to market in weeks rather than months. And since there are no minimum orders LittleBots is able to run small, profitable Kickstarter campaigns, without fear of having to hit a high magic number to afford production.
If Littlebots was using traditional manufacturing methods, they likely would never have been created. But 3D printing lets them leverage platforms such as Kickstarter much more to their benefit. Now they use the platform as a store as much as a jumping off point.