Things just got mainstream: Amazon announced a dedicated 3D print service.
The online retail giant stepped deeply into the world of 3D printing by launching a new “Main Product Category” called “3D Designs & Print on Demand”. It’s very much like Shapeways or Sculpteo: great designs may be browsed, searched, selected, printed and then shipped to your door.
At present the service boasts over 200 products, some of which are customizable. Shapeways has teamed with Mixee labs to provide twenty 3D model generators with which customers can quickly design personalized objects of various kinds. Generators include various rings, pendants, figurines and items of jewelry. They’re easy to use and prices are reasonable, at least for 3D printing.
Amazon’s tagline says: “Introducing Amazon’s 3D Printing Store; Shop the Future”. They’re not kidding - this is how the future may very well turn out. Browsing and designing objects that show up at your door tomorrow.
While this functionality has been available for some time from Shapeways and other similar services, Amazon takes it to a whole new level. Shapeways might be the biggest 3D print service, but they certainly do not have Amazon’s 250M client base. In fact, Amazon likely adds more new clients every week than exist at most 3D print services today. And these clients could purchase 3D printed items in a way they’re already very familiar with. Some of the 3D printed items even qualify for Amazon Prime, the company’s flat-rate shipping service.
Amazon also offers a way for designers to apply to their service if they wish to include their designs in the Amazon 3D Print Store. At this point, Amazon’s 200 items are far less than Shapeways catalog, but with Amazon’s massive size, that could change very quickly. What designer wouldn’t want their designs shown to a quarter of a BILLION possible clients?
But how is Amazon producing the 3D prints? Did they just buy a pile of EOS machines? Perhaps some Stratasys? No, it appears from their press release they’ve partnered with Sculpteo, one of the largest 3D print services. Sculpteo’s CEO, Clément Moreau, says:
Amazon’s deep understanding of customers coupled with Sculpteo’s fast, high-quality manufacturing process offers an unprecedented level of product possibilities for customers.
There’s no mention of Shapeways, so we presume they’re not part of the deal behind the scenes. However, it's possible Amazon is in fact using Shapeways or other 3D print services behind the scenes in addition to Sculpteo and hasn't made that known.
So what happens now? We can think of several implications of this blockbuster announcement.
Shapeways may face a steep challenge. Assuming Shapeways isn't part of the deal, Shapeways at the moment may have the edge on 3D content due to their long existence and relationships with many designers, but Amazon’s depth of client base may shift that over the next few years. It may be that Shapeways will have to partner with another retailer in a similar deal if they haven't done one with Amazon.
Sculpteo could be a huge winner in this deal. The Amazon shoppers will drive significant business towards Sculpteo’s 3D print factories, which will use economies of scale to grow rapidly.
MakerBot and Cubify / 3D Systems might not be pleased with this development, as it means some potential 3D printer buyers might instead use Amazon to satisfy their 3D printing urges. Both companies have been pursuing a content strategy around customized model generators, which Amazon now provides, too.
On the other hand, the announcement could mean this: A huge number of people will now be exposed to 3D printing through Amazon. This could very significantly grow interest in the technology, causing growth in all participants. More water floats all boats, so to speak.
Amazon’s 3D printing venture seems very serious - and permanent. It’s a bold statement to their retail competitors, who will surely try to keep up with Amazon with their own 3D printing operations.