I’ve noticed a bit of trend: the occurrence of small, regional 3D print services seems to be growing.
Here are three that I’ve recently observed:
Champion 3D, a London based 3D print service that appears to be using filament-based equipment to provide 3D prints at low volume quantities. Their slogan:
Printed with ♥ in London. We're based in South London and deliver nationally or you're welcome to visit our workshop and collect your prints in person.
3DLirious, an Arlington, Texas-based 3D print service specializing in color figurines. Their service involves 3D scanning subjects in interesting poses and then 3D printing them, much like a 2D photo studio might do.
Create, an Italian 3D print service that simply accepts input STL, OBJ, DAE, or AMF-formatted 3D model files and 3D prints them. They appear to be able to 3D print in several filament materials as well as resin for high resolution.
While these are only three services of countless others worldwide, there are some interesting observations.
First, they appear to be using lower cost equipment, in some cases likely very inexpensive desktop 3D printing equipment. This is a significant departure from the days of old where 3D print services tended to be only large factories filled with dozens of high end commercial 3D printers.
Second, they are definitely addressing regional needs. Champion 3D, for example, literally hopes you will physically drop in to pick up your prints. I speculate this regional effect may be a result of competition and shipping costs. If similar services can be had locally and not incur intercontinental shipping costs (and delays), then there’s no reason to use other non-local services.
Finally, there seems to be some specialization occurring, at least in some of these ventures. 3DLirious specializes in figurines, even though their equipment could certainly 3D print, say, fine architectural models. I believe this is a good thing, as a strong focus on a specific market should lead to better service for that market as it becomes more familiar to the provider over time.
What I am seeing here is a transformation of an industry parallel to what has happened to the 3D printer market itself.
Wind the clock back twenty years and you’d see only large, expensive commercial 3D printer offerings from the manufacturers. But in the intervening time newer, less expensive options have emerged largely due to the expiration of certain patents for the original 3D printing processes.
This cost-level change has dramatically affected all of the 3D printing world in a number of ways. Large commercial manufacturers have shifted to addressing production manufacturing, rather than prototyping. Prototyping is largely becoming the realm of smaller professional desktop 3D printing equipment.
And now we also see a fragmentation of 3D print services into small regional providers that are also leveraging the low-cost technology that’s evolved over the past several years.
Will this situation persist? I suspect it will, because of the shipping cost problem. So long as someone can obtain services locally from a reasonably priced vendor - and a familiar and friendly one - there is no reason to go elsewhere.