3D Printers

RS Components Takes 3D Printing to the Masses One Online Tool at a Time

In a way, 3D printing represents a convergence between large manufacturers and small companies, or even single persons who create new products. As a huge, publicly-traded electronics components distributor, UK-based RS Components has been at the forefront of this convergence lately, by releasing a series of software and online tools that facilitate an engineer’s approach to 3D design and, thus, further incentive the diffusion of 3D printing technologies, which the company sees as strategic for future expansion and growth.

design spark mechanical

Contacted by 3D Printing Category Buyer Ashely Ward, I recently had the chance to speak with the team at RS Components directly in charge of their 3D design and 3D printing activities. These primarily include Global New Technologies Marketing Manager Sabine Haas, Category Marketing Manager Lorna Finch, and Social Media/Community Manager Pete Wood. The main subject of our conference revolved around RS Components’ latest additions to the Design Spark online platform, specifically those that promote the use of the company’s new and freely available 3D design software and tools.

“We launched Design Spark about five years ago now, and we have some 340,000 members in close to two hundred countries,” Pete Wood explained. “Today, we we get about two hundred thousand visitors and a million page views a month on average.” The newest addition to the DesignSpark ecosystem is the 3D Design section of the Design Centers area, where – starting with a partnership with RepRap’s Adrian Bowyer – RS Components wants to collect and share all information relating to the use of desktop 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D design technologies. “We are working with various people to create content to help people and inspire people and engineers to start creating new things using our tools,” Pete said.

“We see 3D printing as a technology that will benefit mostly those who are engineers, design engineers, as well as prototyping experts and education professionals in these areas,” Ashely Ward added. “I think what’s great about the consumer base we have is that our customers start using 3D printing and immediately understand the advantages it can offer to them. They immediately see how much time and money they can save, so the sales pitch on why they should purchase a 3D printer is actually a very easy one.”

The free 3D software tools and online ecosystems are thus seen by RS Components as leverage to promote its 3D printing business. Getting people to become more familiar with 3D software will inevitably result in a greater adoption of the desktop 3D printing technologies which RS Components has been adding to its extensive line-up of products. These include brands such as MakerBot, 3D Systems, Ultimaker, bq, BeeVeryCreative, RepRapPro, and even the high-end brand EnvisionTEC.

The single biggest driver of traffic to the DesignSpark portal is – and has been since its launch about a year and a half ago – the Design Spark Mechanical free CAD software and digital library. “180,000 people are using Design Spark Mechanical across the globe and the great thing about it is that eight out of ten people are not CAD engineers,” Sabine Haas revealed.

“The great thing about Design Spark Mechanical,” Lorna Finch added, “is that, if you’re an engineer who is used to designing PCB boards, and you want to create custom enclosures, you can do that very simply and then get the models ready for 3D printing in just a few steps.” You might also use the software to create equally complex products that might more directly appeal to consumers, such as, for example, a 3D printed quad-copter drone like this one, recently published on Instructables.


The bottom line is that RS Components is becoming a one-stop destination for 3D printing professionals, both from a sales and education perspective. “My vision,” Ashley said, “is that people come to RS components and Design Spark to learn about 3D printing, to troubleshoot, and to engage with all the people who are using 3D printing and the online community. Not just to buy 3D printers. We think it’s about more than sales numbers and that is what we’re working to here in RS.”