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.

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