It’s Not Personal, It’s Business with 3D Hubs

By on September 13th, 2018 in community, Corporate, interview

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 [Image via Imgur]
[Image via Imgur]

3D Hubs continues on the path toward manufacturing by dropping non-Manufacturing Partner Program 3D printing hubs.

The team reached out to share this news with us, and also provided answers from the top to some of our questions.

Beginning in just a few weeks, the only option for ordering 3D printed parts will be via Fulfilled by 3D Hubs. As of 1 October 2018, those hubs not qualifying for the Manufacturing Partner Program will no longer be taking orders via the site — through no choice of their own.

Announced yesterday, 3D Hubs is strengthening its positioning in manufacturing and separating further from many of those who formed the early base of its community. Taking a page from Michael Corleone’s playbook, the move is all business: manufacturing is where the money is.

The proclamation, shared in a blog post, reads in part:

“Early adopters of 3D Hubs originated from the DIY and 3D printing community. Makers joined the network either as a supplier (Hub) or a customer. The platform at that time was very much free-form, with the goal of serving as many, mostly one-off, custom maker projects as possible.

As the platform evolved from a peer-to-peer 3D printing network into an all-round manufacturing platform, 3D Hubs’ customer base changed. Now, the majority of orders originate from professionals who source parts for larger, high value engineering projects. These users have become a key part of the business and 3D Hubs’ success depends on the ability to serve these customers.

As a result, we started  focusing on improving automation, standardization, and reliability of the 3D Hubs service. As part of this strategy, we launched Fulfilled by 3D Hubs at the end of 2017, as an experiment to test the impact of a more standardized order fulfillment process as discussed in this open letter.

Since launching this service, we have seen explosive growth in the usage of our 3D print service, particularly by the professional user group. Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we’ve seen customer order value doubling since January. It has become clear that in order to reach our goal of revolutionizing the manufacturing industry, 3D Hubs needs to double down on standardization and automation of the manufacturing process. That’s why we are taking the hard decision to move away from our original peer-to-peer model and become fully B2B focused.”

You can read the full announcement here.

And you can read some of the internet’s ire here. And here. And…

The move shouldn’t, frankly, be too big a surprise at this point. 3D Hubs has been moving toward manufacturing as a base strategy for years now, and though it’s been declared dead before, according to the company’s statement, business has been better than ever.

Earlier this year, 3D Hubs officially repositioned from being a “peer-to-peer open marketplace” to a “turnkey manufacturing platform” as it counted 3D printing as part of, not all of, its service offerings. 3D Hubs hasn’t been alone among service providers in this type of focus, bringing 3D printing into manufacturing; there’s been observable convergence in production-oriented offerings.

 3D Hubs unified checkout with 3D printing, CNC and injection molding [Image: 3D Hubs]
3D Hubs unified checkout with 3D printing, CNC and injection molding [Image: 3D Hubs]

3D Hubs Co-Founder and CPO Brian Garret took the time to respond to our questions about the contentious announcement.

How do you anticipate the community response to this change?

“With our announcement earlier in the year we explained that the launch of Fulfilled by 3D Hubs was the start of our move into the B2B market. After the announcement much of the feedback we received centred around people wanting to join the Manufacturing Partner program. Over the past 11 months we have made this option available for all the Hubs on our platform as long as their metrics met the requirements. We have a large waitlist of Hubs who have applied and qualify for the Manufacturing Partner program and we will be reviewing all applicants and adding them to Fulfilled by 3D Hubs as they are required.

Through Fulfilled by 3D Hubs we are proud to have built a very strong group of several hundred Manufacturing Partners, many who started out as small Hubs in our community now operate very successful businesses under the Fulfilled by 3D Hubs model. While we understand that some Hubs will be frustrated by this change we did offer an opportunity to join the Manufacturing Partner program. At the end of the day, our most frequent customers have been very clear about the importance of this direction.”

How does the 3D Hubs move from peer-to-peer toward manufacturing reflect trends on 3D printing as part of the manufacturing workflow?

“We believe 3D printing has now found a stable place in the manufacturing industry. We know many customers on 3D Hubs utilize our 3D printing services for the quick turnaround and cost effectiveness. They can quickly iterate prototypes or low volume orders to find the best possible design. These same customers are then turning to our CNC service or injection molding when they have finalised their designs and need to move to mid-level or full production. 3D printing allows these customers to get their products to the market earlier and by unifying our checkouts and adding new features we believe that as a company we can help our customers get there even faster.”

What opportunities remain for smaller makers/hobbyists looking to connect for occasional services in 3D printing?

“We are offering our Talk Forum as a place for makers and hobbyists to collaborate on all things relating to 3D printing. Alternatively there are a number of platforms who have copied the original 3D Hubs peer-to-peer model.”

After October 1, what does the timeline look like for full rollout of features?

“The new features will be rolled out in Q4 of this year. The new 3D printing ordering experience will be rolled also in Q4 in a phased approach for different geographies.”

How do roots in making and 3D printing fit into the evolving 3D Hubs approach?

“Over the past 5 years we’ve learned that people who 3D print also use other manufacturing technologies such as CNC machining and injection molding. Adding these technologies means designers and engineers can now get almost anything made on 3D Hubs. In that sense these changes are moving us more towards sophisticated hardware creation. We are proud to have been involved in some revolutionary projects, ranging from complex medical applications, to prototypes for the Hyperloop to nano-satellites that are now in orbit around our planet.”

What else should we know about 3D Hubs’ relationship to 3D printing technologies?

“Here at 3D Hubs we still see ourselves as a leader in the 3D printing industry. We have an excellent relationship with many of the 3D printer manufacturers and are excited about some of the new technologies (like the Fuse 1 from Formlabs or the Metal X by Markforged) that are about to enter the industry. We will continue to offer these new technologies to our customers as our Manufacturing Partners add them to their portfolio.”

 FDM and SLS print orientation [Image: 3D Hubs]
FDM and SLS print orientation [Image: 3D Hubs]

It’s a tipping point for 3D Hubs as this new move has drawn considerable attention across the industry and the foundational DIY/hobbyist community. The company is following its business in this case, and the move also aggressively underlines the larger trend in 3D printing as the technology moves into production alongside traditional subtractive approaches.

The announcement is by no means the feel-good story of the year, but 3D Hubs’ repositioning reflects its clear long-term strategy to be a go-to for manufacturing.

By Sarah Goehrke

Sarah Goehrke is a Special Correspondent for Fabbaloo, via a partnership with Additive Integrity LLC. Focused on the 3D printing industry since 2014, she strives to bring grounded and on-the-ground insights to the 3D printing industry. Sarah served as Fabbaloo's Managing Editor from 2018-2021 and remains active in the industry through Women in 3D Printing and other work.