3D Hubs turns five years old this year, and it’s been quite a half-decade, as the company went from small startup to major worldwide platform. 3D Hubs’ users have ordered 1.2 million parts in the time the platform has been in existence, and received them in an average of two days thanks to the platform automation and sheer number of local hubs. Recently, 3D Hubs has begun to branch out from 3D printing a little bit, adding CNC machining as a service as well, and as the platform approaches its fifth anniversary, some big changes are coming.
As 3D Hubs explains it, manufacturing is much bigger than 3D printing alone, and the company wants to be a part of all of it. In a letter to the 3D Hubs community, the founders explain that they’re transitioning from “a peer-to-peer marketplace for 3D printing into a full-blown manufacturing platform.” They now want to be an end-to-end solution for all stages of product development – customers typically use 3D printing for early stages of product development, then switch over to CNC machining or injection molding. So 3D Hubs is going to offer all of those technologies in one place.The platform will continue to work as it always has, giving customers the lowest price and/or fastest lead time by matching them intelligently to the right partners. The team is currently working to build a network of manufacturing partners for the new technologies, and they’re only adding technologies that are CAD-CAM driven. They’re inviting a select group of top-performing B2B suppliers to become “Manufacturing Partners,” which will adhere to the strictest quality standards and meet the needs of customers from even the most highly regulated industries. They’re calling this professional service “Fulfilled by 3D Hubs.”
We talked today with co-founder and CEO Bram de Zwart about the changes to 3D Hubs to learn more about the philosophy behind the new strategic approach.
How long have you been noticing this shift toward a need/demand for manufacturing? How do you foresee the changeover in strategy implementation on a timing basis?
“We’ve known for a long time that many of our customers are also using other manufacturing technologies besides 3D printing, but we were still surprised by the large demand for our CNC machining service after we had actually launched it.
In the last few months we’ve heavily invested in real-time quoting for CNC as this provides a better customer experience and was needed to operationally support the growing number of requests. Next week we’ll be introducing our injection molding service to a small set of our customers. Other manufacturing technologies will be added later in the year.
The ‘Fulfilled by 3D Hubs’ service in collaboration with our manufacturing partners will be expanded this month from the USA to also Canada and Australia. Shortly after that we’ll be launching it in Europe.”
What do you anticipate as the customer/supplier reaction to this shift?
“I think it will be mostly positive looking at the results of the first few changes we’ve already made:
The new user adoption rate for the ‘Fulfilled by 3D Hubs’ service is now at 80%
Hubs that have been selected as a manufacturing partner have seen an average 260% revenue increase since they joined the program.
3D printing customers that also use our CNC machining service spend ~2,000% more than the platform average, which shows the demand for CNC and the synergy between the two technologies”
How much of a role do you expect 3D printing to continue to play in 3D Hubs’ day-to-day operations and order fulfilment?
“3D printing will continue to be very important as many customers appreciate our next day delivery option or the design freedom that this technology provides. With 3D printing being a CAD-driven and relatively automated technology, it also lends itself extremely well for real-time quoting and manufacturability analysis. By the end of this year, half of our revenue is still expected to come from 3D printing and of course most team members will continue to have fun with the 3D printers in our office…”
How does this shift in strategy reflect the larger shift toward integrating 3D printing as part of an end-to-end solution for manufacturing?
“Thanks to 3D printing other manufacturing technologies such as CNC machining and Injection Molding have become more affordable, so there is a lot of synergy between them. 3D printing is used to produce jigs for CNC or to produce molds for short-series injection molding. We expect these technologies to overlap even further and compliment each other.”
What reaction have you had from operating Hubs in the system with the recent shifts in focus?
“We’ve had many positive responses, especially from Hubs that want to run a full-time business on 3D Hubs. For Hubs that became Manufacturing Partners the business impact is also major with an average 260% revenue increase. Some part-time hobbyist Hubs were less excited as with our focus on professional customers they have become less visible on the platform. We will still provide value to the broader 3D print community through our Knowledge Base, 3D printing handbook, online forum ‘Talk’, the 3D Printer Buyers Guide and our trend reports. We’re also proud of our history in organising over 500 events creating local communities of 3D printing enthusiasts and supporting makers around the world in our early days.”
What can you tell us about the selection of Manufacturing Partners?
“In the United States we have selected 80 Manufacturing Partners with whom we’ve also signed Service Level Agreements. They were selected based on their 3D print capabilities, performance (eg rating, average response time, etc) and are all required to already have a full-time business. Any Hub who meets the criteria can still be considered as a Manufacturing Partner.”
The change makes sense and reflects the wider manufacturing industry as 3D printing finds its place alongside other methods, less as a stand-alone technology and more of a complementary one. You can read the full letter from 3D Hubs to the community here.
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