It is easy to see why technology is inherently seen as a threat to the workforce; nine times out of ten the introduction of technology into a corporation is designed to save cost on labour. You only have to take a look as far as your local supermarket when back in the days before barcodes, supermarket cashiers often had to be highly trained in acumen and have memories the size of an elephant, for this they were fairly handsomely rewarded. Then barcodes appeared and their jobs became minimum-wage roles requiring little more than an arm, now take a look at any supermarket, six self-service tills are being operated by one human being; Technology 5 – Humans 1.
Although additive manufacturing does have benefits for the likes of GE, who can reduce assembly costs of a fuel injector by printing complex components as one it is also responsible for a whole new set of business models set by entrepreneurs who are using the technology to become self-employed.
Model of success
“What I find interesting is that we’ve always had the Business to Business (B2B) model and the Business to Consumer market (B2C) model but what you now see happening because of 3D printing is that the Consumer to Consumer (C2C) and even Consumer to Business (C2B) models are growing.” explained Onno Ponfoort, Senior Managing Consultant at Berenschot and author of a new book ‘Successful Business Models for 3D Printing’.
A recent report by Shapeways submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business said that 84% of the 14,000 Shapeways Shop owners want the marketplace to be their full-time income and 94% of those spent less than $1,000 setting the shop up in the first place.
The idea is fairly simple with Shapeways, you do the creative side and they’ll do all the heavy lifting for a cut, Shapeways have previously stated that they’d like to see the first Shapeways millionaire by the end of this calendar year. The business model for shop owners is C2C. However, it is the increasing area of the previously unknown C2B market that intrigues Onno most.
“Our whole society is coming round to the idea of that the maker community is a valid alternative to traditional industry manufacturing.” Claims Poonfort “Sometimes a design company may not need the maximum quality for an iteration they just need it quickly and the maker market can fill that whole.”
3D printing hubbubs of activity
One platform thriving in the C2B market, is 3D Hubs, who have, at the time of writing just announced a $4.5million round of funding. Filemon Schöffer, Head of Community at 3D Hubs told TCT: “The bigger goal of 3D Hubs is for Hubs to run their own business, we want to give them the platform to grow a 3D printing business.”
One man, who has certainly grown his 3D Hub into a sustainable business, is film producer Jan-Willem Wirtz. One of the first people on the 3D Hubs platform with his second-hand MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, Jan-Willem has steadily cultivated his Hub into a five strong production facility.
“I am addicted to my normal job as a film producer but I can imagine that I only have to only take out the jobs I really love on that side and my basic income is coming through 3D Hubs.” Says Jan-Willem. “Last week I had a new record, I printed more than €1000 in a week, the material cost is only 10-20% maximum. If it continues to grow then I can see that you could give up your day job.”
Though the idea behind 3D Hubs is fairly simple – you list a printer for those that need a local printer – Jan-Willem says that as the platform grows and more people list their printers, the more canny operators are the ones who have most success.
“A lot of people ask me ‘Will I get my investment on a 3D printer back on 3D Hubs?’ Of course you will get you money back eventually but the speed in which you do so relies on your own skills of selling, for example one of the things I do is put an extra 3D Hubs mailbox in my garden so that people can collect their prints 24/7, I don’t have to be at home they can just come to the address and collect. Those are the kind of services you need to offer, you not only have to think creatively for the 3D print itself but the whole customer journey. “
Badge of Honour
Jan-Willem says that around 40-50 per cent of his orders are for prototypes and another half are for fun one off products like iPhone cases often downloaded and customised from Thingiverse but there is another income source heading his way, certified badges.
Badges signify a trusted manufacturing partner, a truly C2B service that allows for local production on machines tested for quality. Filemon Schöffer explains more:
“Ultimaker are outsourcing their whole sample programme to 3DHubs, they gets a lot of requests for samples from potential customers, which took up a great deal of energy but now they can order samples at all our Ultimaker badged Hubs. Hubs will be required to do a few tests and then they earn a badge. Ultimaker sample orders are placed directly through us, we deal with the customer order and support and the Hub prints the item. Ultimaker pays for the order but that outlay is minor in comparison to setting up a sample programme, the Hubs take the money and we take our commission, so everybody is happy.”
This form of local production of minor parts for larger companies is a business area that Onno Ponfoort completely believes in and has already seen the wheels in motion at one unnamed corporation:
“A company I am working with classifies parts in three categories; Category 1 was the most important part to the brand value, for those parts they only have a monitored, completely controlled minimal set of production partners; Category 2 tends to be aesthetics that don’t matter so much to the end result, for those items they have a much larger ring of suppliers they are able to use, which means a more competitive price; Category 3 are parts that as long as they perform the function, it’s fine to 3D print them, we just do test sampling to make sure that the producers are getting to the quality required. This opens up the door for manufacturing on your doorstep”
If the likes of Shapeways and 3D Hubs continue to grow these new business models then it is likely that 3D printing will go from zero to hero, seeing people cast-off their dwindling factory jobs in order to design some jewellery or make hooks for Ikea curtain rails, and thus the balance of the universe is evened out.