Chris White, answers questions about the recent launch of the 3dHoudini platform and how it came to be.

The 3dHoudini 3d Print Hub marketplace officially launched on March 30, 2021. Chris White, founder and Chairman of the Board of 3dHoudini, was kind enough to talk with me about the platform and how it came to be.

How did 3dHoudini come about?

Prior to 3dHoudini, I was employed as a Senior Technical Build Specialist by TEAGUE, a global design consultancy, where I was working on building a full-scale prototype for Blue Moon, the lunar lander for Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space project.

While building Blue Moon, I became frustrated watching as a $600K CNC router was used only once or twice a month. It was painful to watch the company lose potential revenue due to idle equipment. It was clear to me that the solution was a freelance-type platform, like Fiverr and Upwork, but for manufacturing.

With the goal of providing a marketplace for companies and fellow builders in mind, I set to work building a web-based platform that would provide businesses and individuals seeking manufacturing services and products access to a large pool of talent, and give greater market access to manufacturers, engineers and designers. I wanted to build a company that would cater to the growing demand for an online marketplace to serve the manufacturing industry.

As you mentioned earlier, the 3dHoudini platform launched quite recently. In the first three weeks following the launch, we were primarily focused on onboarding service providers. At the point that we had 100 service providers listing their services on the platform, we started advertising to customers looking to have product manufactured, and I am happy to say that in the last few weeks, we have seen our first commercial sales.

What does 3dHoudini do?

We connect purchasers of manufactured parts and related services with providers of those parts and services. We are especially focused on providing affordable market access to smaller manufacturers and service providers. We have modeled our business after freelancing websites such as Upwork and Fiverr. Today, freelancing websites are commonplace. It is estimated that 41.6 million Americans used freelancing websites to find work in 2019. 3dHoudini is bringing this technology to manufacturers.

Our primary focus is on providing low-cost access to market for nontraditional manufacturers and service providers who haven’t had access in the past. These are small manufacturers or sole proprietors and companies with excessive downtime on expensive equipment.

Where do you want to be in five years?

The total global market value for 3dHoudini’s target market is over a trillion dollars per year. Our goal is to provide greater flexibility and opportunity to designers, entrepreneurs and small manufacturer, and if we can capture some piece of that total market while accomplishing that goal, I’ll be thrilled.

What sets 3dHoudini apart from other manufacturing marketplaces like Xometry, 3D Systems or 3D Hubs?

3dHoudini is the only open marketplace in the 3D printing space. Some of these platforms give the impression that they provide a choice of service providers, but when it comes to 3D printing, you will be provided with a fixed price and not be given a choice of service providers, or even know where your part is being made. That is not an open marketplace.

Why now?

A rapidly growing number of direct-to-consumer companies are increasing demand for fast turnaround, low-volume manufacturing. A flurry of companies, selling through online marketplaces such as Amazon or Shopify, are looking for a new type of manufacturing partner that doesn’t insist on selling by the container and taking months to turn around an order.

You use the term “freelancers of manufacturing.” What do you mean by that?

Manufacturing equipment such as 3D printers, 3D scanners and robotic arm milling equipment, to name a few, has come down in price. Affordability has made advanced manufacturing technologies, equipment and materials available to small manufacturers and sole proprietors, enabling them to produce high quality, competitively priced parts. We call these lean new operators of advanced equipment the “freelancers of manufacturing.” They are typically individuals or sole proprietors who sculpt, design, engineer, create molds or own and operate high-tech equipment.

We are entering a new era where small manufacturers using advanced equipment often have advantages over traditional manufacturers using injection molding equipment that necessitates high setup (tooling) costs, long lead times and are only cost effective for high-volume production runs. On the other hand, as equipment improves, our freelancers can offer increasingly competitive prices with no tooling costs, short lead times and low minimum-order requirements.

These freelancers are often working out of a home, garage or other low-cost facility with minimal staffing requirements. They generally don’t have anywhere near the overhead that larger businesses do. As a result, these freelancers, armed with access to the market, sophisticated equipment and operating with low overhead, are being empowered to compete on a global scale.

You’ve called 3dHoudini an asset-sharing platform. Can you explain what an asset-sharing platform is?

3dHoudini also provides low-cost entry to market for businesses that have invested in expensive equipment and the staff to operate it, but for any number of reasons, find that they have down/idle time where the staff and equipment are under-utilized. 3dHoudini provides a hassle-free way for companies looking to defray the cost of expensive capital equipment by sharing it with paying customers. We’re not talking about physically sharing equipment, but rather, in their downtime, producing parts and providing services for other businesses.

Asset sharing is not a new concept. What 3dHoudini is doing is similar to what Uber or Airbnb do, except instead of cars or houses, we allow people (or companies) to share manufacturing equipment and their expertise in operating it. 3dHoudini’s marketplace allows the business to sell time on their equipment without investing time and effort into finding customers, allowing companies to focus on their primary business. It’s easy! All they have to do is list their services on 3dHoudini.

What role do you see 3D printing playing in the future?

There is a growing demand for 3D-printing services. The global 3D-printing market size is estimated to be 9.9 billion USD in 2018 and is expected to reach 34.8 billion USD by 2024, growing at a CGAR of 23.2%.4 3D printing has come a long way since originally introduced in the 1980s as a convenient method for creating prototype parts out of plastic. Advancements in 3D-printing equipment and materials have resulted in costs being driven down, making 3D printing a more feasible option for general manufacturing use. We are already seeing 3D printing transition from being primarily a tool for prototyping to a viable option for low-volume manufacturing. It is becoming more difficult to justify the expense and lead time of an injection mold for low-volume production runs. 3D printing has become a cost effective, faster and more flexible solution for low-volume production of plastic parts.

Additionally, 3D printing can now be used with various materials, including metal and ceramics, giving an alternative to injection molding for building parts. With new, highly sophisticated 3D printers for metal printing, the ability to print metal parts has become cost effective for both prototyping and for some production environments. The convenience of 3D printing combined with the added potential of volume production is forcing a change in mindset about the role of 3D printing, and major manufacturers like GE, Honeywell, IBM and others are embracing the technology.