Why Is It So Hard To Buy 3D Printer Filament?

By on March 27th, 2018 in Ideas

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 Bags of 3D printer filament - sometimes too hard to buy
Bags of 3D printer filament – sometimes too hard to buy

Sometimes it is just too difficult to buy 3D printer filament from some companies. 

There are plenty of sources for 3D printer filament these days, as countless regional plastics manufacturers have switched over a portion of their production line to making 3D printing materials. For many, it’s a new product line that offers new revenue at a low cost, since they already have the equipment to product it. 

But making 3D printer filament is only one part of the challenge. Once made, the filament must be sold. 

That’s where many companies seem to have troubles. 

At Fabbaloo we receive a great deal of email from manufacturers of all 3D printing products (and plenty from others, too, for some unexplainable reason). Frequently found among our mailbag contents are solicitations from 3D printer filament manufacturers. 

We’re not big buyers of filament, as we are not a production shop. In general, we make words, not prints. But when we buy filament, we never buy from “random company who emailed us”. And there’s reasons why. 

I examined closely a recent incoming message of this type to see why it is near impossible to consider ordering from “random company”. I found the following challenges with their offer, after following the link to their online store:

The pricing was uncompetitive, as it was based on the wholesale model: Pay a huge premium for a single spool, but get a more than half price discount if you buy more than 50 spools. I don’t want 50 spools! 

I don’t know the spool measurements on this item, so I cannot tell if it will fit on any of the 3D printers I operate, or whether I have to make special spool holders. 

This particular product was entitled “3D printer filament <XX> types <YY> colors 1.75mm 2.85mm 3mm abs pla 3d printing filament free sample”. Is this a descriptive title for buyers or a SEO play? 

There is NO WAY to specify what material to order. Am I ordering PLA? ABS? Something else? The title is entirely unhelpful. Do I have to call to confirm what I am ordering? How do I call? 

Similarly, there is NO WAY to specify the diameter of the filament to be ordered. Am I getting 1.75, 2.85 or 3.00mm? Maybe I’ll get a mix for variety? 

I think you get the picture. After a couple of these bizarre encounters, you lose confidence in the vendor and turn away to others that seem more organized, in spite of “Free Shipping”. If it is not possible to specify the product order properly, does the vendor actually understand its own product? You start asking yourself whether they might be able to assist if there are problems with the product, if actually ordered. 

That is the problem many manufacturers have: they may be able to make good or even excellent products, but they may not be successful unless they make it possible to order in a straightforward manner. 

These are not cultural or language translation issues; they are basic marketing and sales techniques that should be in place. 

I’m hoping more companies can spend more effort and expertise on marketing and sales, as it would be not only good for their companies, but also good for the 3D printing world as a whole through added – and effective – competition. 

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!