What 3DHoudini knows about 3D printing that you don’t

My friend, Pat, recently shared a story with me. Pat works for the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe. A short time back, he was at a convention largely centered around 3D printing. Pat attended a presentation about advances in 3D printing technology with a high-ranking executive from his company. After the presentation, my friend asked the executive what he thought about the presentation and 3D printing. The executive’s response was something to the effect of, “It’s the beginning of the end for us. We [large corporations] have been able to stay on top only because of the prohibitive costs of developing a product and taking it to market. With 3D printing, all that changes. Soon, an individual with relatively inexpensive equipment can do everything that we can do.”

While this take is mildly alarmist, I agree with the manufacturing executive as to the disruptive potential inherent in 3D printing.

I think 3D printing is a much bigger deal than most of us—even people in the industry—realize. 3D printing, coupled with other considerations that I will describe here, has the potential to fundamentally change commerce. I believe that 3D printing, in concert with a new infrastructure that will drive it, will have a similar impact on the world as did the personal computer, internet or the smartphone.

At the same time 3D printing has been scaling up, platforms like Uber, Etsy, eBay, Airbnb, Craigslist and Upwork, have had explosive growth. What these platforms all do well is provide little guys with affordable market access and the ability to sell directly to the consumer. These “little guys” are individuals, sole proprietors, and other small operations, and they have nowhere near the overhead that the big companies do.

3D printing can produce a quantity of unique products as easily as it can produce a quantity of identical products, giving it an advantage over traditional manufacturing and making it extremely customizable. Our world hasn’t been afforded this level of customization since 1913, when Henry Ford created the first moving assembly line for the mass production of automobiles. With the modernization of mass production in manufacturing, customization took a backseat to cost efficiency.

My company, 3DHoudini, is building the infrastructure mentioned above. We are the first online marketplace to apply a freelancing platform model to the manufacturing industry. Like Upwork or Fiverr, we are an intermediary between buyers and sellers, providing a truly open market. Small operators with low overhead can now sell directly to consumers. Our platform ultimately serves buyers and sellers of manufactured products and related services of all sizes, be we are hyper-focused on providing an open market where 3D print service providers connect directly with consumers.

This is how I envision a typical consumer purchase to happen on the 3DHoudini platform five to ten years from now:

Say you want a propeller for an outboard motor that has an unusually sized shaft. First, you source your design and have it customized to fit your motor’s shaft. Customization might include scanning the shaft or simply entering measurements. The design may be one that you’ve produced yourself, purchased from a third party, or acquired from a service provider on our platform. Next, you select a local service provider and have the propeller printed. Transferring and managing designs will be done through subscriptions using proprietary encrypting software, like movies on streaming services, rented (printed per use) or owned, etc.

Essentially, consumers will create or purchase designs for products and then have the product printed locally, bypassing the current system completely. As advances in 3D printing technologies enable us to produce more useful and desirable products, this infrastructure will grow. For this system to thrive, it is essential that marketplaces be open to service providers. That’s where companies like Xometry and 3D Hubs fall short; their business models do not provide an open marketplace for 3D printing.

Ultimately, this system will better serve the consumer by providing a product more closely tailored to their needs at a better price. At the same time, it creates new pathways to economic opportunity for millions of service providers allowing them to sell directly to the consumer–and charge retail prices.

In addition to its economic impacts, this new infrastructure also drives environmental sustainability. It is more cost- and environmentally efficient to print only the required number of parts as close to the customer location as possible, minimizing waste, shipping and energy used in storage. In addition, 3D printing produces lower carbon emissions than the coal burning factories that it replaces. 

Our platform is still in its infancy and we are just one piece of a large, rapidly changing system. However, it is exciting to be involved in shaping a new paradigm that could have such a far-reaching impact. I have always been an optimist, but building 3DHoudini has given me an even sunnier outlook for the future.