3D printing marketplace
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A 3D printing marketplace is a virtual space (website) where users buy, sell and freely share digital 3D printable files for use on 3D printers. 3D printing marketplaces have emerged with the fast-growing segment of consumer 3D printers. Currently, the existing 3D printing marketplaces are handful and their business model is still not profitable.
The consumer market for 3D printers has grown tremendously over the past several years. According to Credit Suisse the growth in 2013 is 100% vs. 2012. Consumer 3D printers allow the households to produce certain goods at home. Since most people are not CAD professionals, they have to use third party designs. 3D printing marketplaces are the largest sources of 3D printable designs and it is believed that they will dominate on the market of 3D printable objects.
How 3D printing marketplaces work
3D printing marketplaces are a combination of file sharing websites, with or without a built in e-commerce capability. Designers upload suitable files for 3D printing whilst other users buy or freely download the uploaded files for printing. The marketplaces facilitate the account management, infrastructure, server resources and guarantees safe settlement of payments (e-commerce). Some of the marketplaces also offer additional services such as 3D printing on demand, location of commercial 3D print shops, associated software for model rendering and dynamic viewing of items using packages such as Sketchfab . The most widely used 3D printable file formats are stl, wrl and vrml.
Type of 3D printing marketplaces
There are different varieties of 3D printing marketplaces. Some of them like Thingiverse are dedicated to free sharing of 3D printable files. Others, like Shapeways offer a 3D printing service for objects which have been provided for sale by designers. Another category are websites exemplified by Threeding and 3DPrintWise. These offer free and commercial exchange of digital 3D printable files for use on 3D printers but do not directly include 3D printing services themselves. These marketplaces do however, offer integration to databases of 3D printers provided by third parties such as MakeXYZ and 3D Hubs. These latter two resources each contain geo-location services to several thousands of registered 3D printers. The two largest personal 3D printers manufacturers Makerbot (part of Stratasys, Ltd) and Cubify (subsidiary of 3D Systems) offer their own file repositories for sharing, respectively Thingiverse and Cubify Store. For professional 3D printing needs there are platforms which offer a reverse-bid style auction interface, an integrated escrow payment system and many features specifically tailored for B2B transactions.
Popular 3D printing marketplaces
Shapeways is a New York based 3D printing marketplace and an on-demand provider of 3D printing services. Designers upload design files, and users can place orders with Shapeways to produce the 3D printed item for them. Shapeways offers a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, ceramics, etc. The company houses 50 industrial printers and produces over a million products on demand.
3DLT is a platform for 3D Printing As-a-Service that helps retailers offer 3D printable products online and in-store. 3DLT creates value by delivering an experience that drives traffic, builds engagement, and helps retailers move product. Users of 3DLT design and upload 3D printable files and 3DLT works to print and sell these products. 3DLT is the first company to offer 3D printed products on the world’s largest e-commerce website, Amazon.
Thingiverse offers free sharing of user-created digital designs for 3D printing. The website is owned by Makerbot (a subsidiary of Stratasys). Numerous technical projects use Thingiverse as a repository for shared innovation and dissemination of source materials to the public.
Threeding is an Eastern European startup that offers free and paid 3D printable content. The company launched its services in 2013 and it became popular among CAD designers and hobbyists with its simple design and interface. Significant parts of the 3D objects available at Threeding.com are digital copies of historical artifacts. Other sites have blossomed as market places for 3D printing such as Scultpteo.com and 3DPrintWise.com which have a commercial flavour. Both focussing on the explicit trading of files for 3D printing with integrations to 3rd party printers, modelling and rendering software.
CGTrader started as the e-shop of computer graphics before transitioning into a more 3D printer friendly model marketplace. The company connects designers and buyers of 3D model designs, primarily focusing on 3D printing and computer graphics. Lithuanian venture capital fund Practica Capital invested in the company in early 2013 and Intel Capital invested further in 2014.
Ponoko sells lasercutting designs as well as 3D printing designs, with a greater focus on the laser cutting side. It gained noticeable media attention because of its unique business model, as one of the first manufacturers that uses distributed manufacturing and on-demand manufacturing.
The current intellectual property legislation in the developed countries does not explicitly regulate 3D printing. This creates numerous questions about the statute of 3D printing marketplaces. Some analysts predict that 3D printing marketplaces will be "the next Napster". Most of the existing marketplaces are quite conservative on this topic. For example, Thingiverse removed the product Penrose triangle after a takedown notice submitted by the designer Ulrich Schwanitz. Most large 3D printing marketplaces also have procedures for copyright complaints. Further development of 3D printing and more new marketplaces for file sharing will most probably make copyright become a significant issue for them.
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