Pinshape co-founder Nick Schwinghamer talks about how 3D-printing marketplaces are just part of a larger trend of services helping makers compete alongside traditional companies.
Analysts differ on how big and how fast, but everyone agrees that the 3D-printing market is exploding: $4 billion in 2015, $5 billion in 2017, $8.4 billion in 2020. The numbers vary with each prediction, so some have stayed away from specifics and focused simply on the potential.
As the Guardian put it recently: “… the realm of possibility is limited only by our imaginations.”
And there’s a lot of imagination out there.
This rapid growth is particularly noticeable in the proliferation of sites for the aggregation and sale of 3D-printable designs. This week, as part of our look at the trend in new maker marketplaces, we spoke with Nick Schwinghamer, co-founder and COO of Pinshape, to explore what’s driving these markets and where they’re headed.
Pinshape showed up on the scene early this year, challenging industry giants Shapeways and Thingiverse for a piece of the 3D pie. According to Schwinghamer, their goal was to carve out a niche by focusing on curated, user-friendly content and “guaranteed printable designs”.
As adoption of 3D printing has grown, so too has the catalog of objects at Pinshape. Schwinghamer’s platform is now one of the few 3D-printing companies to sell directly through Amazon, as the online retailer tests the waters in this new arena of consumer products.
Schwinghamer says that all this interest in 3D printing is fostering the growth of a new community of creatives, expanding the maker-identity beyond a “hardcore subsection of society” to anyone curious about design and fabrication.
“There is a lot of knowledge to be passed on from the experienced and established makers to the rest of the world interested in this technology,” he said. “Platforms like ours help bring the advantages of the maker community to the average consumer.”
What are these consumers looking for when they come to marketplaces like Pinshape? According to Schwinghamer, price drives many choices on the platform, but the unique nature (and sheer newness) of 3D printing has also made ease-of-use paramount for buyers.
“There are so many technical and confusing things that are related to 3D printing right now — from the software to the design requirements, file types, printer settings, mechanical constraints and material properties,” explained Schwinghamer. “These are complex fields all on their own, and now consumers are being asked to put them all together.” Platforms that can take this complexity out of the equation lower barriers to access and make 3D printing a viable option for a much broader swath of shoppers.
Additionally, says Schwinghamer, makers looking to attract these consumers must attend to more than just the design. They need to become storytellers.
“It isn’t the idea that you can produce a hunk of plastic from a design file that excites people, it’s the fact that they can, in their own home, press a button and create glasses frames that perfectly match their outfit for the night,” he said.
Schwinghamer says both creatives and the companies and individuals who serve them are having to step up their game in this expanding market. Ease of use throughout the ecosystem needs to improve. Until predictions of a 3D printer in every home actually come true, contract printing outfits as well as the manufacturers of the equipment have some work to do.
“Access to cost effective and geographically convenient services that are looked after by professionals will help growth for the average consumer,” said Schwinghamer. “There are only so many people in the world that are willing to put up with clogged extruders and print bed leveling. A 3D printer is only as useful as the things you can print from it.”
Schwinghamer is excited by the potential for distributed manufacturing and easy customization that is increasingly possible thanks to new 3D-printing software and hardware.
“We envision a future where big brands offer their designs for customization and print, creating a new, low overhead way to quickly distribute good worldwide. ” He points to the way that companies like Staples, Home Depot and UPS, as they enter the space, provide credibility to end consumers about the validity of the technology and drive rapid growth of content.
Says Schwinghamer, “The major turning point will be when the mass population realizes they can have control over their own physical worlds using 3D printing, and aren’t just stuck with whatever options someone else decided they should have.”