I’m looking today at an interesting 3D print service startup called Fictiv.
There are a ton of 3D printing services in the world today, in fact it’s possible another one started up while you’re reading this post. Many are quite generic, providing a only a limited layer overtop of a farm of 3D printing machinery.
That’s how it was in the beginning: “send us your STL file and we’ll give you a quote”. By email.
Believe it or not, some such services still exist, but they will have an increasingly difficult time competing with more focused 3D print services such as Fictiv.
What makes them different? In my eyes, I seem them directly addressing the startup community, which you might think is mostly software plays and has nothing to do with 3D printing. It turns out that there are a ton of startups these days that are developing hardware: gadgets of all kinds.
These startups need to make prototypes, and sometimes a great many of them. One startup friend has a 3D printer of his own and it’s running almost 24 hours a day producing prototype iterations for a particular device being developed.
He’s able to do that because he has access to the equipment and has an understanding of the materials and processes required to operate it.
But that’s definitely not the case in many startups. Often you’ll find a small set of people frantically working on a product, but 3D printing skills are not necessarily present. In such cases, the startup might be forced to hire someone to do the 3D work for them. Startups often end up running around trying to find qualified local 3D print operators willing to produce their high-quality prototypes. But that’s not a productive use of their valuable and scare time.
Or, you could turn to Fictiv, which provides a reasonably good interface for such situations. They explain:
At Fictiv, we’re creating the future of democratized manufacturing. Our mission is simple: to empower people with the tools, information, and community necessary to build amazing products.
The fastest way to go from idea to prototype. From upload to delivery in 24 hours.
They’ve collected a local network of “vetted” 3D print operators, each able to supply industrial-quality 3D prints on a variety of 3D printing processes. Fictiv provides information on how best to select the right technology for the job. This enables the startup to gain 3D services in a more thoughtful manner.
Here’s one of their tools, a “Material Decision Tree”, where you can determine the best 3D printing process for your project.
The other feature from Fictiv that addresses the needs of product developers is speed. While others merely offer instant quotes, Fictiv’s standard service is two-day production and then same day shipping, but they can also do one-day production if required. That’s quick, and much faster than the more typical several days or even weeks from some other services. Speed is critical for startups in particular.
The service currently has a regional focus, with a distributed manufacturing network in the San Francisco bay area, where they can deliver parts in the same day, as well as shipping to nearby areas.
I presume that if they can get their business model working well, they may expand into other areas by setting up additional distributed manufacturing nodes. Perhaps they’re already doing so by recruiting existing 3D print operators for a future launch.
This is something I’d like to see more of: a service bureau that attempts to understand the specific needs of their target market and builds a system that addresses those needs.