Archive for the ‘3D Printing’ Category

3D Printing Business Models Spell Ecosystem Change


Above: MakerBot 3-D printer from MakerBot Flickr account.

This blog is focused on the relationship between large companies and their communities (customers, partners, and more) as it relates to new technologies. Emerging markets generate a desire for large companies to integrate new technologies to scope out new business models, scenarios and plans. Within this context I propose four major scenarios for large companies to offer 3D printing and scanning technologies within their business ecosystem.

New business models are emerging, transforming retailers into manufacturers and service providers, offering customized products at scale, and reconfiguring supply chain and logistics into new business entities heretofore unseen and into others we’ve yet to see.  As a primer, before you read on, be sure to read the impacts of 3D printing to corporations, then read the five different roles large companies can play in this market.

Examples Print Quality Capital Investment Fulfillment
4) Industrial 3D printing $500k industrial printers that print complex, advanced materials or multi-materials, ideal for medical and industrial use. Example: aerospace parts are being printed by GE, and BAE systems is printing fighter jet parts. High High Slow High
3) 3D Printing as a Service In this scenario, expensive 3D printers are housed in a central location and orders are received online. The finished products are mailed to the customer, taking days or weeks. Currently, Shapeways offers this service, printing using high quality metals, plastics and other substrate materials. High High Moderate Low
2) Retail 3D printing The potential exists for retail stores, big box electronics, shipping, and office supply services to offer print on demand, much like the old Photomat business model. Mid Mid Moderate Mid
1) Home 3D printing Cube, Type A Machines, and MakerBot, already offer consumer-grade machines that may be used to print in 3D in your own home. Low Low Fast Low


3D printing requires business model change.
The big trend is that people and businesses are becoming empowered by new technologies for funding, design, modeling, manufacturing, and shipping goods on demand.  While most goods are currently simple items, technology will continue to advance, demanding major shifts in today’s manufacturing ecosystem.

  • The game shifts when anyone can manufacture goods.  First of all, my mom isn’t ready for 3D printing. I’ve taken classes at TechShop, and I was stunned by the complexities involved.  However, 3D printing as a service (like Shapeways) enables anyone to produce 3D goods without configuring printers, filaments and dealing with 3D files. Production, even on a limited scale, starts to become democratized.
  • New services emerge for customized products.  3D printing isn’t just about printing goods on demand or at a local level. It also allows people to print out customized products for their own lives, bodies, and homes. Expect new design services to emerge to produce custom-fit products for bodies. In fact they already exist. A logical starting point is jewelry, then practical gadgets, mechanical devices, consumer electronics, automotive components.
  • Logistics, supply chain, and shipping are impacted.  With goods being produced at local levels rather than at production facilities, in country or offshore, supply chains are disrupted, as 3D Printing takes global hold. With that said, China is already investing in 3D printing, according to USAToday.

Thank you to the Ben Simon-Thomas and Scott McGregor from SoundFit, a 3D scanning provider who fleshed out this diagram with me.  If you are a large company and want to discuss these topics with experts and your peers, I recently launched a company dedicated to these and similar game-changing topics. See Crowd Companies, a brand council for the Collaborative Economy.

2014 Collaborative Economy Predictions on NBC (video)


Above:  The embedded video player will allow you to play the short, 8 minute clip from my interview in the “hot seat” on NBC.

Happy New Year all, it’s great to ring in the new year, right after the Dec 10th launch of my new company, Crowd Companies.   To kick start the new year, NBC asked me to go to their Silicon Valley TV studio for the Press:Here show hosted by Scott McGrew to give three predictions for 2014 around the collaborative economy. Here’s what I told them, which you can also watch above:

  1. Uber will start to threaten Amazon, as they can deliver goods at local level. Uber can deliver at a local level, faster than 3-day shipping from an Amazon fulfillment center. It’s also worth noting that Uber’s major investor is Google, who has Google Shopping Express, Google Wallet, Waze, search, and more.
  2. A major hotel chain will launch their own branded version of Airbnb.  Using white label marketplace software like NearMeCo, or Sharetribe, brands will start to build their own versions of marketplaces.  I predict a major hotel chain will do this first –franchising the crowd, just as they franchise business owners.
  3. Scanning and printing of 3D objects will cause manufacturers to turn their heads.   Much how we saw the democratization of media with Napster and Torrent sites, we’ll start to see P2P file sharing of 3D printed items, as well as people start to experiment creating simple items.

And yeah, I’m wearing a tie, a rare occurrence, as I thought I’d start the near year spiffy. I was joined by Jon Swartz of USA Today, Michal Lev-Ram of Fortune, and our host Scott McGrew.  Also, a special thanks to Todd Defren, Alex Cohen and the SHIFT Communications team who were a huge help in the media outreach for Crowd Companies.

What 3D Printing Means to Corporations


4c9o wild
3D design by Virtox, Dutch 3D printer designer, featured on Thingiverse.

There’s no shortage of press and media attention focused on 3D printing, ranging from manufacturing metal guns to restoration of human facial parts or jet engine parts to Victoria’s Secret angel wings.  Beyond the press coverage, there is a significant, unanswered question that needs to be answered:  What does this mean for traditional corporate business models?

[For corporations, 3D printing shifts products from standardized, scheduled, & at scale to customized, on-demand, & local]

I’ve taken classes at TechShop on 3D printing, visited the Shapeways factory, and own a few 3D printed goods (with more coming).  I’m stunned by the many materials that can be printed, including steel, gold, chocolate, wood, proteins, and a variety of plastics.  The folks at Stratasys recently left comments on a prior post, which prompted me to look into the many industry specific applications their 3D printer services provide.

This trend is only going to increase, as indicated recently by HP’s Meg Whitman’s public pronouncements about their entry into this space in 2014.  Also MakerBot, a popular 3D printer, has pledged to supply 3D printers to teachers, who, in turn, will teach our next generation of students.  Google Trends, which tracks searches for a term, shows a steep increase of the number of people seeking to learn more about this new technology, a strong indicator of growing interest.

But what does it mean?  The relationship between the people formerly known as consumers will continue to change.  Former consumers are now designers, producers, and manufactures.  Or, if regular people aren’t actually using these tools, they can tap the marketplace of designers, like 3D files in Thingiverse, or use 3D printing as a service with companies like Shapeways, Ponoko, Kraftwurx or print at their local TechShop.

What 3D Printing Means to Corporations: Six Significant Impacts

Impacts What it means What no one tells you
1) New skillsets required 3D design professionals will develop new skills, including replicating, modeling, and configuring the printers themselves. Students are learning these skills. Expect these to be common on resumes in a few short years.
2) Intellectual property ecosystem disrupted With the advent of 3D scanners, or modified Xbox Kinnect devices, anyone can scan human bodies, or any other items, and create 3D versions. Like Napster, expect P2P file sharing of 3D items to only increase, including a developing black-market
3) Rise in local production shifts supply chain Local production is going to cause rifts in traditional supply chain management and global logistics as products are produced on site, or near a neighborhood. If items are produced on site, dependency on low skilled foreign labor and global shipping are impacted.
4) On-demand printing reduces waste and impacts inventory On-demand printing will effectively reduce the need for large inventories, reducing many costs from warehousing to inventory taxes. A reduction in warehouses filled with idle goods. Retail stores shift to experiences over showcasing.
5) Customization of goods challenges the tenets of industrial revolution Personalization of goods will disrupt mass standardization. This means that body features, measurements, and preferences are saved online in a new profile. Having multiple sizes at a store to try on will give way to items that are designed for your body or need.
6) Complex and unique goods created for first time Unique and complex goods that never existed before will be printed, including intricate structures, like this statue. Some 3D designs are emulating organic materials –changing design and engineering trends.

Solutions: There are five roles companies can choose to play in this powerful movement.
Companies that make goods, ship goods, store goods, or sell goods are in for change.  Supportive industries in design, customization, materials, logistics, and marketing are also going to be impacted by this growing technology.  Rather than fight this new technology, companies must determine which of the five roles their company can play in this seminal post, ranging from: Financial Backer, Manufacturer, Supplier, Marketplace, Service Provider, and develop a strategy to implement this trend – rather than fight it or ignore it.




The Five Ways Companies Can Leverage 3D Printing –and Avoid Disruption


Showcase Virtox
Above photo: Showcase collection of intricate and moveable 3D Printed goods in acrylic, stainless steel. Designs by famed Dutch designer, Virtox, using Shapeways, 3-D printing-as-a-service and marketplace of designers.

One Liner:  The crowd is becoming like a company in the Maker Movement. 3D printing rapidly accelerates it.  Find your company’s place in the ecosystem with these five business models.

This is the next phase of social business.
Just as many people who have published blogs, videos, and pictures have become media companies, we’re now seeing people make physical things and personally become like traditional companies.  In both phases, the rules are the same:  those who stand in the way will get pushed aside.  Those who enable, will benefit.  Welcome to the Maker Movement, where communities crowd-fund, design and produce goods, then host their own global marketplaces for trade.  New technologies like 3D printing will quickly accelerate this trend.  The industrial revolution is repeating, but at a personalized level.

The movement is accelerating as 3D printers enable Makers.
Here’s a few cherry things that have happened in the last few weeks:  Printing giant HP has announced they will enter the 3D printer market next year.  A metal gun was 3D printed in Texas last week.  A Paris fashion show was dedicated to 3D printed apparel.  A father takes medical care into his own hands, and 3D prints a hand for his special needs son.   If those examples don’t get you, you can now print in wood, salt, ceramic, gold, proteins, and most magically, chocolate.   Yes, I said chocolate!

There are significant changes coming to business models.
I’ve taken classes at TechShop, visited Shapeways a 3D printing factory, and have a number of 3D printed objects at home. I don’t consider myself an expert at the technology itself, but I am focused on the impact to business models and the relationship between customers and companies.  What will be the impact of 3D printing on business?  There are five business impacts: 1) 3D printing is going to force changes in business models and commercial laws, including liability and IP rights.  2) Local production is going to cause rifts in traditional supply chain management and global logistics.  3) On-demand printing will effectively reduce the need for large inventories, reducing many costs from warehousing to inventory taxes.  4) Personalization of goods will disrupt mass standardization.  5) Unique and complex goods that never existed before will be printed.

With these many changes coming, companies need to develop new corporate strategies.  To help, I’ve simplified the five business opportunities, which large companies can tap into now.  Here’s a helpful guide to get your company on the right path now.

The Five Business Models for Companies to Leverage 3D Printing

Business Model Description Example What no one tells you
1) Financial Backer Invest in startups, sponsor them, or acquire players. Philips was an early investor in Shapeways which continues to grow as a 3D printing service.  Autodesk, Intel, and Lowe’s sponsors TechShop, a maker studio across the United States. Corporate development investments have exceeded venture capitalist investments over the past years.  Many startups are seeking monies direct from large companies.
2) Manufacturer Produce 3D printing hardware and components or create the software that makes them work. Autodesk, a leader in 3D printing software has lead thought leadership, built an amazing gallery in SF, and hosted events on this topic. Intel, Google both feature 3D printers at their developer events. Even if you don’t manufacture 3D printers or their software, integrate how those can be tucked into your business model for employees, and new services for customers.
3) Supplier Produce and distribute filament composite materials that will be used in the process on an ongoing basis. Become a supplier of 3D printed files (STL) or IP. Companies who currently produce goods can refunnel supply chain to produce spools of materials used by 3D printers. Also see how Nokia served up digital files so communtiy could 3D print cases for phones. Companies who seek to release 3D printed files should release files that don’t cannibalize their own revenue as an unintended consequence.  Nokia’s release actually disrupted their partners.
4) Marketplace Host an online marketplace of designers, printers, products and service providers. Currently, the largest marketplace is Thingaverse where STL files are being uploaded and shared. New 3D scanners are emerging, enabling people to scane physical goods then re-print them out to their liking. Remember how Napster met quick federal walls and new models, like iTunes, emerged, shifting Apple to hardware company to value-added media marketplace.
5) Service Provider Provide education, printing as a service, customization, design services, or delivery in this broader ecosystem. Shapeways (backed by Philips) is a printer as a service.  Techshop (backed by Intel, Autodesk, and Lowes) teaches Makers new skills.  Retailers can create customized, value-added products that expand their brand and product offering. Just as Target and Walmart have photo services in retail stores now, expect to see 3D printing services emerge there for customized goods on demand.


The impacts to 3D Printing has broader ecosystem impacts.
So who will be impacted?  People who make physical goods from any material will be impacted.  Any company that makes widgets or parts without a broader value-added service or prestige brand or community will be impacted.  While the physical goods manufacturers are certainly at risk, there’s an ecosystem impact that shifts:  global shipping, and thus need for oils, could be radically altered as goods are printed at local level.  If complex goods can be printed – instead of assembled – there will be significant impacts to emerging markets in Asia, South America, reducing the need for even expert manual labor.  Of course, this has broader impacts to oil usage of shipping, and even military bases protecting investments.  It’s bigger than it looks.


Shapeways Delivers 3D Printing as a Service, Reshaping Business Processes


An assortment of 3D printed items, accompanied by Duann Scott (left), myself (center), and Savannah, (right) at the Shapeways 3D “Factory of the Future” in Queens, NYC. Behind us are rows of high-end 3D printers, polishing machines, designers, QA teams, and operations experts.

Trying to configure, calibrate, and properly print a 3D object is a clunky experience. Fortunately, there are services that enable this: Meet Shapeways, a 3D factory available now for you.

In my humble opinion, I’ve found that 3D printers for consumers need some time to mature.  I’ve taken a class at TechShop to learn that the level of skill requires a hobbyist and tinkering capability. It’s not just “Press print.”  To meet this need, and to print using high quality materials, Shapeways offers 3D printing services on demand, and ships your products to you.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tour Shapeways “Factory of the Future” in Queens, NY, and got to see first-hand how they do this.  They offer a variety of designers and artisans, who can custom design your products, or tools that enable you to customize existing products. Truly, the possibilities are limitless.  With the capability to print in 35 different materials (and new ones coming), Shapeways has high-end, professional grade, 3D printers that can print in color, acrylic, and also polish and dye process to color your products.

The impacts to business are potentially tremendous.  One can print personalized goods for your own style.  Items can be printed on-demand and delivered to you within days.  They can also be printed at scale and replicated quickly by printing an entire batch.  These resources aren’t limited to consumers alone.  Progressive companies like Nokia have made their STL 3D printing files available to the 3D printing community, encouraging them to print out their own cases.

The potential impacts for business are quite significant:

  • Anyone can become a designer or manufacturer, without ever leaving home.
  • Rapid design and prototypes can be printed quickly.
  • No need to configure large warehouses and supply chains.  3D printers print quickly, on-demand.
  • Print only what you need, reducing the costly overhead of warehouses and excess inventory.
  • Customize and personalize for individuals, radically changing the game.
  • Eventually, use recyclable or sustainable materials, preserving our resources.

You can learn more about Shapeways, order ready-to-print items now, and customize things like color and size.  Read their blogbuild your own custom design, or upload your own design and set up your own ‘store.’

Below are some images, vine videos (Scroll over to see) and other examples of what I learned at the Shapeways factory tour.

Above: To manage fresh off the printer 3D printed items, I gave my hands in front of this professional machine. The material was heated up near to melting point.


Above:  In these hills be gold.  Inside of blocks of acrylic and other composites,

3D items are waiting to emerge.

Above: Blowing off excess materials with compressed air, and ready for the polishing machine.

Above: Should you want to print out replicas of your loved ones, or even yourself, this is possible in many materials. Makers are using modified Xbox Kinnect modules, and placing individuals on rotating discs to quickly scan someone. Beat that TSA.

Above: What if you could customized your jewelry for every day of the year? This is possible, with many pieces being just $20

Above: Intricate new designs, that are not been physically possible to create before, are now available, thanks to modern technology, this one being stainless steel.

Above: While Shapeways can print in over 35 materials, I took a quick vine of some of the more popular materials.

Above: Inspired by the life size Theo Jansen walking “Strandbeast”(see TED video) this was printed as two pieces, the walking leg part and then the propeller was printed and affixed on top. You can buy one, right now, for $100.

Above: I just ordered this Gyro, by famed designer Virtox. This was printed out as one single print, and is now available for you

Above: Nokia made their 3D printer files available so others could print them out, with mixed results

Above: Sad Keanu is sad. He’d likely be happier if he knew he was printed in color using gypsum salt, in color (see the color printer in action)

Above: My graciously delightful host, Duann noticed I didn’t have a quality business card holder for my Crowd Companies cars, and presented me with this.

Above: Savannah from Shapeways presented me with their “Business Card” a set of interlocking 3D cubes with the name of the company on front. You can quickly turn your company logo into a 3D item, using their website.

Want to learn more about how big corporations can tap this movement?  I’m starting a company to help with this. You can sign up here to get the details.  Thanks to Tim McDonald, who connected us, making this possible, and Vivian Wang, who first told me about Shapeways many moons ago.

3D-Printing Clunky, But Shows World-Changing Promise


I wanted to know how 3D printers will impact corporations, so I took a class.

I find value in hands-on field research
In the aim for further understanding the impact of the empowered customers to corporations, I took a class on 3D printing at my local Techshop, where regular folks can learn cutting edge skills. Previously. this spring, I visited Maker Faire where thousands of people who want to make their own products (rather than buy them from corporations) assemble to share, hone, and show off their skills.  The big winner was the large pavilion of 3D printers, which I shared my findings.   I’m also living the collaborative economy movement, I’ve reduced buying physical goods, and prefer to rent or get on-demand, and even allowed a stranger drive off in my family car.  In all these examples, I’m trying to live and experience to understand, rather than just be a casual observer.

I see three movements: social business > collaborative economy > makers movement
I’ve found that there are three major movements in our direct view, some more obvious than others.  The first is the social media movement. where the sharing of ideas and media have democratized information, spreading power to the crowd, to date most companies have joined in from marketing and customer care departments, but struggle to go further.  The second movement is the collaborative economy, where people can share goods and services directly with each other –rather than buy them from corporations. The third movement, approaching quickly on the horizon, is the maker movement, where people can make their own goods and products, rather than buy at all.   If you look carefully, the disruption increases in each movement, with some folks building their own cars.

What I learned:  These early days show great future
To couch my experience, I only took the 101 class, and I have much more to learn, but here’s my early experience. I attended this class with Vivian Wang, Kenny Lauer, and Korman R.

  • 3D printers show great promise.  These technologies have the ability to enable production and manufacturing anywhere, radically changing business logistics, power, and empowering those who use them.   Some of the materials we saw printed were plastics, and biodegradable corn-based materials.  There was even water-soluable materials that could be used as ‘filler’ to hold the model up while it was being printed.  At a recent meeting of the minds at Stanford, we explored how these 3D printers could emerge at UPS locations, retail outlets, Kinko’s and then eventually move into garages, homes, and kitchens.
  • My limited experience concluded a clunky experience.  Maybe I’m just new to it, not techny enough, or didn’t have enough experience, but I found the overall setup of the 3D printing complicated and klunky.  There were 12 pages of instructions we went through, including learning to use the unforgiving software, finding files online to use, configuring the printer, heating the plate, affixing the spool, using an SD card, and managing a build time that could be over an hour.   I’m no luddite, but at the same time, I don’t want to over-hype this technology, it requires some learning, skill, craft as a proper hobbyist should.  Visions of playing with dot matrix computers in elementary school came flooding back.
  • They are on path to advance to advance to become consumer-ready.   To go mainstream, this needs to move out of the hobbyist or prosumer hands and get into homes, this will require easy plug-and-play setup, access to files, ability to quickly manipulate and rapidly produce in a safe way.  While Staples already sells an entry level 3D printer called “The Cube” it’s not clear how successful it is, with a single review (and Amazon only has 5 reviews).  I imagine future versions are cloud based, with a thin client on a laptop, and a large easy to access marketplace of designs and a service marketplace of people who can help you customize for a fee.

What it means to Corporations:  Even more opportunities and disruptions ahead
I’m meeting with some of the experts at Autodesk soon, who’ll show me some of the advanced setups, but in my limited experience, I think there’s still a ways to go for this new technology set.

  • 3D printings on horizon, but not dominating… yet. While maker movements have been around since people were in our earliers villages (with surnames like “Smith, Potter, Tanner”) these early skills gave way to mechanization of the industrial revolution.   Now, with communities like Etsy, Quirky, and Shapeways who provide 3D printed items, there’s an opportunity to grow new businesses of highly personalized, on-demand products.
  • Those who use these tools will have more power than others. Just as we saw corporations adopt the internet to regain communication power, and then adopt social media to regain reputation control, corporations will also need to integrate these on-demand production machines at work, at partner locations like retailers, and at homes.   Brand that move in now can establish an ecosystem to ensure their designs are properly used, perhaps with license fees,  a community and marketplace of designers who build together, and those that provide higher quality materials.
  • Physical good companies that don’t get involved risk disruption.  These machines often have 3D scanners that can scan any item, then replicate it with the printer, just like a facsimile machine did with paper.   In the hands of massive production, these copied designs can quickly be shared online in new napster-like networks, enabling the crowd to build on top of them, improve them –without the corporation involved.   Companies that make simple physical goods must learn how to enable this technology before it gets ahead of them.

Select photos from the class:

Above: First things first, getting to know the 12 page instruction sheet, I took copious notes to learn the new terms, phrases, file types, software applications, and printer units.TechShop
Above: My view, in class. Each student had an IBM laptop, and in the center was a Makerbot Replicator 2

Above: Behold the beautiful Makerbot Replicator 2, the center build plate is heated, and colors of printer indicate status, heat, and more.

Above: ReplicatorG software with a pre-loaded STL file (mine was a cookie cutter, in the shape of a christmas tree)

Above: Each time the printer is turned on, and ideally before each item is used, you should adjust the build plate to ensure it’s level with 3-4 small knobs

Above: The Replicator G software had many configuration fields for printing type, time, speed, quality, support and more. For a novice user, a class, and lots of experimentation is required for each print.

Above: A spool of 3D printing filament, this one, I believe is PLA, which is biodegradable as it’s corn-based, pricing ranges in $30 price area. The plastic material is ABS, which can be more durable but less flexible. Each material prints with different attributes: from density, shrinkage, heat resistance, and stability. They come in thousands of colors, including glow-in-the-dark.

Above: A small jar in the clever shape of the TechShop logo was on display in the front lobby

Above: A 3-D printed whistle (with a floating pea inside that was inserted mid-print). Below the whistle is ‘support’ which can be used to print complex structure and then is removed post-print with a knife, and a ‘raft’ which stabilizes advanced prints.

Above: On display, an advanced model of a small intricate artifact was featured in the front of the shop.

Above: Look closely the cross-hatch ‘Infill’ determines the quantity of the interior material used in this batwing, this one was set at 30%, I believe. These took about 18 minutes to print, but the expert instructor had it optimized, some builds could take hours.


Closing Thoughts: Much more to learn in this nascent field
I hope you enjoyed learning about my experience as much as I enjoyed sharing it. It’s safe to say, I’m no expert, but will continue this journey of knowledge and wanted to share with you my early findings in my continued field research as the crowd continues to become more empowered.  Love to hear your questions, thoughts, and comments below.  I look forward to returning to TechShop to continue to learning and experiencing more.