Blog Article

Bringing on-demand production closer to consumers, with 3D printing

Bringing on-demand production closer to consumers, with 3D printing

February 24 2015

By Charlotte Knight

With thanks to Bram de Zwart, Co-Founder of 3D Hubs for writing this blog post.

It is an honour to see 3D Hubs featured in this year’s Nominet Trust 100, it feels like recognition of our work, and supports our vision that 3D Hubs can truly impact the world.

3D Hubs is the world’s largest network of 3D printers with over 11,000 connected machines spread across 140 countries. By connecting people who want to 3D print with people who are willing to rent out their 3D print capacity through our web-based platform. By pooling the world’s 3D printers we’re making it possible for anyone who wants to create their own designs and have them produced around the corner of their home.

Our passion for 3D printing started in college, where Brian (my partner and 3D Hubs co-founder) and I were the first generation to graduate on 3D printing within our university. That’s where we started to realise the enormous societal impact 3D printing could have on our future.

3D printing technology enables local and on-demand production and can solve the inefficiencies of centralised mass-production. On-demand production will reduce inventory needs and production waste, whilst local manufacturing will cut down shipping and CO2 emissions, which will have a huge environmental impact. A recent McKinsey study forecasts that 3D printing could positively impact the economy up to $550 billion per year in 2025, through production cost savings only.

Also, as 3D printing technology shortens lead times, we believe innovation will further accelerate. From a consumer’s perspective, the increased availability of 3D printers allows people to design, create and customise whatever they want, nourishing people’s creativity.

While working at the largest 3D printing market leader - straight after college, Brian and I discovered that most 3D printer owners only use them 5% of the time, meaning that most of the time the printer just sits around. This was clearly an opportunity we needed to seize: making 3D printing universally accessible to the wider public and bringing manufacturing closer to the consumer. 

We wanted to help people make money during the 95% of the time that their 3D printers sit unused, while giving every consumer access to local 3D printers. And so our idea to set up a global printing network, where 3D printing supply meets demand, was born in 2013. Less than two years later we provide more than one billion people access to a 3D printer within ten miles of their home!

It’s really exciting to see that 3D printing technology unlocks an unrivaled creativity. 3D Hubs wants to empower consumers to become a maker of their own products, providing more people access to this world changing technology. We see a wide variety of incredible 3D printing projects, ranging from jewellery and indoor greenhouses to a 3D tattoo printer!

One amazing example recently is the Tactile picture books project, where students and researchers of the University of Colorado Boulder are developing story books for visually impaired children. They are trying to re-imagine visual storytelling with picture books and are currently using our platform to produce their second round of prototypes.

By lowering barriers to this technology we're essentially pushing the whole industry forward. With our partnerships, for example Spark, we are trying to advance 3D Hubs one step further, connecting the world’s largest 3D print network to the global leader in 3D design software, and making it easier for consumers to print their own designs.

One of our favorite projects in the 2014 Nominet Trust 100 list is E-Nable, an inspiring example of how 3D printing can truly impacts people’s lives by creating affordable prosthetic devices using 3D printing technology. We admire them for building and fostering a community of volunteers, showing what greater things people can do together. Just like us, their community is driving the potential of this technology. 

Our vision is to put the power of creation and production into the hands of consumers, by making it possible to locally produce anything customised and on-demand. We truly believe that in the end this will nourish people’s creativity, but also lower environmental waste by making the global production cycle more efficient.

Although we’re just at the start of our dreams and ambitions, what we have achieved until now, could have only been possible with the enthusiasm and loyalty of our community. So a big thank you goes to our Hubs, Makers and our entire community for turning a great idea into the global network that we are today, and of course to NT100 for recognising us!

Images courtesy of 3D Hubs

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