Mind If I Borrow Your 3D Printer? How 3D Hubs Is Creating A Community Around Printing
The additive manufacturing industry has become an incredible resource to startups and entrepreneurs. The technology has not only helped break down the barriers to entry for product developers, but has also lent itself to an evolved marketplace where entrepreneurs can cater to personalized services and products, at a just-in-time pace, with very little startup capital necessary to launch. This has tailored an economic trend for the emergence of high frequency startup activity, mostly in the world of 3D printing. From hardware and software, to the outliers in material sciences and social/educational services, Wohlers reports the total addressable market is just over $2 billion, and growing at a double-digit margin annually.
As with any other disruptive technology, there's a high saturation point once the technology has left the early adopters hands and has climbed up the evolutionary ladder. I have been watching many of these startup entrants, but one of the more interesting ones I've seen will have a significant affect on the adoption rates of 3D printing technology is 3D Hubs, which I saw pitch at the Inside 3D Printing Startup Competition.
3D Hubs, simply put, has created a peer-to-peer network of 3D printers; for people who own printers to generate revenue using their printer as a side business, and for people who are interested in the technology and want to print, but aren’t ready to buy one of their own. Adding a little more complexity, for every community who gets significant involvement, their community will be unlocked for 3D Hubs meet-ups. This provides an opportunity for the collision of like-minded individuals, while also showcasing their printers to the client base they serve.
3D Hubs meet-ups are a way to bring together all the people who own printers, and all the people in the community who want things printed—or just want to see the printers in action—in one location, and let the networks unfold from there.
The company was conceived to take advantage of the (what founder Bram de Zwart calls) 90 percent down time. The theory is; people who own 3D printers only use them 10 percent of the time, and the other 90 percent they just take up space on the desk or counter they occupy. So why not treat your desktop 3D printer as an investment and provide access to people who want to print? What’s brilliant about 3D Hubs is how they have taken their MVP and really developed it into a community building, resource sharing, and overall evangelization of 3D printing.
I see this company as more than its defined marketability and scope of their mission. It is the ability for freelancers and hardware hackers to iterate a prototype, no matter where they are in the country, and have an iteration within hours. This allows makers to continue their work as they travel and promote their products. It allows educators to incorporate the technology into the lesson plan with minimal financial investment, and still receive really quick turn around.
Many startups are going to make noise in the industry, especially as patents continue to break. But what 3D Hubs is building is a sophisticated network of makers that not only evangelizes the technology, but also makes the technology accessible to the masses.