John Hauer and the 3DLT team have a head for business. We have seen manifold 3D printing marketplaces emerge recently, some better than others. The ones doing well aren’t necessarily the best. They are the marketplaces that are networking. 3DLT has created partnerships with Amazon, 3DP IP protection outfit Authentise, 3DP search engine 3D Part Source, maker-owned 3D printer network makexyz, and now PieceMaker’s Factory in a Store.Let’s delve into why PieceMaker has been added to this union.
3DLT got off to a rocky start for allegedly infringing on Intellectual Property and consequently receiving criticism, including from technology magazines such as Wired and the Verge. Some people would have given up there and then. A good business mind sees all publicity as an opportunity, even the most disastrous. There is no such thing as a failure. There are only learning opportunities and raised market awareness. I can’t tell you that this is what was going through the heads of 3DLT’s team as they took down their website and issued an apology back in February last year. As we reported at 3DPI at the time: ‘Whether or not this was an oversight or something more sinister is difficult to assess objectively, but as of now the site remains at a standstill – looking for new partners and reshaping their business models – until further notice.’3DLT is now doing impressive things by networking and placing itself high on the list of noteworthy marketplaces for 3D printables. And it’s pertinent to point out that of the myriad marketplaces that exist now, in five years time consolidation and consumer choice will likely see this number greatly reduced. Will 3DLT be one of the survivors? Quite probably, in my opinion.
What with the online partnerships cemented, it seems natural to anticipate that a group of experienced business people such as the team behind 3DLT will already be looking to other areas of growth potential. In-store 3D printing services have emerged in a blistering array of commercial activity over the past year. Twelve months ago there were no large partnerships with stores. Now there are 3D Systems and Mcor partnerships with Staples, UPS will 3D print for you in-store, Microsoft Stores feature MakerBot printers, eBay and Amazon have 3D printer sections, and ASDA (part of the Walmart Group) is offering 3D printing. These are big names. There are many smaller retail partnerships. Amidst all this, the partnership between 3DLT and PieceMaker is entirely logical.
3DLT CEO John Hauer said: “We look forward to working with the team at PieceMaker Technologies to deliver 3D printing’s premier instore experience. Our partners now provide IP services, digital file streaming, a large outsourced print network, and in-store printing. We’re building an ecosystem and in our case, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We provide speedtomarket and deliver the total package. We’ve witnessed the advancement of lots of other tech, and have worked with some of the world’s biggest brands. We know the bottlenecks and how to remove them. PieceMaker has a proven solution. They’re the firstmover in storebased 3D printing. We provide content, technology and production services for retailers. It’s very complementary.”
The aim of the toolkit supplied by PieceMaker and 3DLT is to aid retailers to ‘minimise supply chain cost, merchandise more effectively and operate more profitably by leveraging their existing brick-andmortar and eCommerce assets.’ It is going to be a number of years before we see any potential widespead adoption of 3D printed products (3D printables, productables, physibles, call them what you will) sitting alongside traditional retail product. There is huge general interest in 3D printing. There is some existing consumer traction. There is wisdom in future proofing.
Whilst 3DLT suggests that “recent instore demonstration events and announcements by major retailers allude to significant activity in the space,” I would suggest that the majority of this activity is early, and speculative regardingprofit potential. There should be significant growth in sales in 3D printed products and services over the next few years if the trends continue, but there will be a stratification of engagement with that potential. Initially the big players have jumped on board the potential, those are companies that can risk making huge losses. Personally I don’t perceive losses, but risk will put retail SME’s and even some of the larger chains off from joining the world of 3D printing for a couple of years yet. As Maplin, one of the largest retailers of electronics in the UK told me recently, they have only sold twenty five 3D printers nationally to date, and the majority of the public would probably name 3D printed guns, 3D selfies and bioprinted livers as the only 3D printables in their day-to-day consciousness. Greater adoption is still around the corner, but not quite yet. Most people want multi-colur multi-material 3D prints, not mono-tonal plastic?
Unto what degree the stratification occurs and what 3D printed products are made in the home, the local retailer that offers a 3D printing service or via industrial production of consumer products has yet to be seen. It’s not just going to be about how fast desktop 3D printers develop as consumer items in themselves verses how quickly retail chains adopt 3D printers to offer a more cost effective way of getting a 3D print. There is the ‘X’ factor of cultural pragmatism. Just because a practical technology emerges doesn’t mean it will be used en mass. We see this in the example of speech input for smartphones. Few people talk to their phone in public. This may change in time given that speech input such as Siri for iOS is a packaged product, distributed with something people do want and use, but the cultural pragmatism aspect means that the majority of people feel embarrassed to be apparently speaking to themselves as they walk down the street, as well as talking to a device. Cultural adoption of technologies requires cultural adaption. People are accustomed to being able to walk into a retail outlet and get a photocopy.
A facsimile of a three-dimensional object is not a huge leap from this. Even when multi-colour multi-material affordable desktop 3D printers are available, there is still the cultural pragmatism aspect to overcome. People shop by perception, mainly visual and tactile. Printing a product at home is light years from this. It’s as big a cultural shift as feeling comfortable talking to a device in public. And, almost needless to say, phones are phones, people have always talked to them, but there is definitely something psychologically different between talking to another person on a mobile phone and talking to the phone itself.
3DLT has the downloadable element covered, and now the retail element. If we don’t end up with a world with even one in ten-thousand households with a 3D printer in their house (currently there are very roughly one in seventy-thousand) 3DLT will still be making money via the retail output from their ecosystem. Thus my conclusion that 3DLT will likely do well over the coming years.