Value co-creation within the 3D printing industry

At the moment, 3D printers become a more common phenomena. The use of 3D printers enables both consumers and companies to fabric products that before either could only be produced in massive amounts or would be very expensive or time consuming to make.

A very basic 3D printer for consumers would cost you around $1,000.-, whereas more professional printers that are able to print more complex materials in high quality can cost up to $100,000.-. In other words, it does not seem worth it to own such an expensive device on your own.

That is exactly what the founders of 3D Hubs thought. 3D Hubs is a startup company that enables users to connect with owners of 3D printers in order to print a certain design of choice. The company claims that at this very moment, 14,399 printers are connected to the platform. To some extent one could say that by connecting with 3D Hubs, a printer’s owner is co-creating value. Moreover, the platform includes so-called ‘Talks’, where users can start threads about anything related to 3D printing. By enabling upvoting to sort out the popularity of comments on threads, users get actively involved as well. Also, 3D Hubs organizes events related to 3D printing in order to meet up with fellow 3D printed object fanatics. The founders have the ambition to eventually make 3D Hubs the ‘Facebook of 3D printing’.

What would be needed in terms of value co-creation to reach this goal? To start with, the design of the object wanted to be printed, is designed with software outside of the 3D Hubs platform. Designing a 3D object can be rather difficult. Therefore, if you do not have a design already, 3D Hubs recommends to have a look on Thingiverse or 123DGallery. Thingiverse and 123DGallery are community platforms where you can design and post and share your 3D design on. People can actively participate with these platforms by using existing designs of others, making new designs on their own, or edit designs and customize these into different versions of the product. That does sound pretty useful.

However, when having a look at the designs posted on these platforms it seems that the majority consists of designs that are either really simple products or products that do not have a purpose (e.g. weird looking jewellery). In order words, these designs do not seem to address problems that can be solved with mass market kind of products and therefore it would be more convenient to buy such products in any kind of shop.

In my opinion, in order to become ‘Facebook of 3D printing’, a platform should try to up with ways to let people share only their most useful designs that really are an improvement to mass market or mass customized products. Let’s create real value co-creation. I believe these platforms would be used way more when some mechanisms would be added:

– By giving additional incentive to designers next to ‘name and fame’, e.g. a monetary incentive or prices for best designs;

– By recommending 3D designs to users related to their interest.

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