3D printing marketplace
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Type of site
A 3D printing marketplace is a 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 households to produce 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. MyMiniFactory offers a combination of these two: their main activity being the free sharing or 3D printable files, they also offer print-on-demand and design-on-demand services. 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.
3D printing marketplace examples
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, using industrial printers, from a variety of materials including metals, plastics, and ceramics.
3DLT was a platform for 3D printing as-a-service through which retailers offer 3D printable products online and in-store. Users of 3DLT design and upload 3D printable files and 3DLT worked to print and sell these products until it went out of business in 2015.
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.
MyMiniFactory offers free sharing of 3D printable files that have been previously tested on 3D printers. The website is property of iMakr and also offers a free streaming service for 3D designers. They also provide print-on-demand and design-on-demand services.
Threeding is an Eastern European startup that offers free and paid 3D printable content. A significant portion of the 3D objects available at Threeding.com are digital copies of historical artifacts.
Current intellectual property (IP) legislation in the developed countries does not explicitly regulate 3D printing. This creates numerous questions about the IP status of 3D printing marketplaces. Some analysts predict that 3D printing marketplaces will be "the next Napster". Most marketplaces remain conservative on this topic. 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 cause copyright to become a significant issue in them.
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