Online 3D Printing Services Should Watch Out!

THE RISE OF HOME 3D printers should make the 3D online printing services somewhat nervous. Especially when you look at the quality of new products like Form-1 – although not yet on the market. In an earlier post, I wrote that I am not a firm believer in home 3D printers, but I do believe there is a market for them. The same market where a lot of the online 3D printing services are focusing on.

When online 3D printing services became available around 2008, the availability of home 3D printers was very limited. Certainly, no commercial home 3D printers were on the market.

Fast forward to today and the choice for home 3D printers is exploding. Not only that, but also their capabilities and performance are increasing as well while prices are dropping. Now this is the standard pattern for any new major new consumer technology, but it is a threat for the existing online 3D printing services.

I expect a significant drop-off of early adopter at online 3D printing services. These users are buying their own 3D printers and print most of their parts on those printers. They still do 3D print parts via online 3D printing services when they want a professional 3D printed part or a special material, but much less frequent. New users will still come to these services and have parts produced. But the question is how fast they will decide to either buy their own 3D printer or go to a neighbor, friend or family member with a 3D printer.

This behavior will pose challenges the current generation of online 3D printing services. They will need to position themselves beyond being a online 3D printing service. Even with their professional machines and better materials, the difference between the immediate and “free” competition of a home 3D printer is in my opinion not enough to survive. Each of them needs to try to find their own way of adding value on top of providing the 3D printing service. There are many options available like post-finishing or services.

The next 2 years will be important. I expect the home 3D printer market to mature quickly leading to major changes at the current generation of online 3D printing services. I cannot wait to see how this is going to unfold.

  • Scott Heiden

    The 3D printing services should concentrate on providing a turnkey retail storefront like Shapeways offers their designers. They can handle internet sales, printing, and shipping products much more efficiently than a one-person home business with a 3D printer, allowing the designer to spend almost all of their time creating new products.

    • Robert Schouwenburg

      Yes that is one excellent direction. Do you think they offer enough at the moment or do you expect more?

      • Scott Heiden

        There’s always room for improvement. Selling the customer items which enhance their 3D prints comes to mind – like a variety of chains to purchase for shipping with their 3D printed jewelry.

        I’m still waiting for Shapeways to offer fixing the print orientation of the part as a purchasing option. Additional finishing services (like polished WSF) are a good idea; for example Jettuh posted a photo of a FUD part he polished up with the machine used for cleaning WSF parts on Friday:

        Most customers would choose to purchase the polished model over the raw print shown in the Flickr link.

        • Robert Schouwenburg

          Yes those polished parts look and feel awesome! There are a lot opportunities in post-finishing of 3D printed parts.

  • Eric Haines

    I see it evolving something like 2D printers have: a few sheets of paper printed at home vs. large posters and large jobs done at Kinkos. If you want a small print with limited material choices, you use your home 3D printer; if you want a larger print or in some more elaborate material, you use an on-line service.

    • Robert Schouwenburg

      Yes Eric, the split in the 2d printing market is a nice example with home printers, copy shops and online services like VistaPrint. I wonder when 3D printing franchise chains will appear on the market.

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