Collaborative Pioneer Interview with Bram and Brian from 3D Hubs

3D Hubs is the world’s largest and fastest growing network of 3D printers. In this interview, founders Bram de Zwart and Brian Garret talk about their inspiration for starting 3D Hubs and what they envision for the company further down the track.
 
1. What inspired you to start 3D Hubs?

While working at 3D Systems (one of the world’s largest 3D printing companies), Brian and I discovered that most 3D printer owners only use their printers occasionally and that 95% of the time the printer just sits around. By unlocking these printers’ idle time, we saw an opportunity to bring manufacturing much closer to the end-user, which is the real promise of 3D printing. We really wanted more people to get easy access to this world changing technology.

We started talking to some printer owners to find out if they would be open to print for others, and got an overwhelming response: our idea of 3D Hubs was born! Six months later, in April 2013, we quit our jobs and launched 3D Hubs. Now, almost two years later, we have a network of over 14,000 3D printing locations in 147 countries. 3D Hubs is the world’s largest and fastest growing network of 3D printers, giving over 1 billion people access to a 3D printer within 10 miles of their home.

2. What is the business model of 3D Hubs?
With our platform, we are connecting people who own printers and want to make their printing capacity accessible to people who want to 3D print.

For this service, we take a 15% fee on every order via our platform. We really aim to make 3D printing easier via our platform: our software automatically checks if the designs are actually 3D printable and provide real time quotes for every 3D printer within a customer’s desired area.

3. What has been a challenge(s) for 3D Hubs?
We want 3D printing to be more accessible for consumers, but they first have to know what’s possible. The average consumer needs to see examples before they know what they can and want to 3D design and print. With most trends, they follow the example of popular consumer brands. So we would love to see more of the larger consumer brands to create interesting designs that are 3D printable. I believe it would spark consumer’s creativity. An example is Nike’s 3D printed bag, which I personally like. If only they could make the 3D design available to consumers to print.
 
4. What’s ahead for 3D Hubs?
We just launched a partnership with Instructables, the largest DIY platform in the world, to add a ‘3D Hubs print button’ next to all 3D designs, making it easier for their 30 Million users to instantly 3D print their favorite designs. And we’re working on more partnerships that will lower the boundaries for consumers to get started with 3D printing.
 
Also, we are working hard to expand and continuously improve our platform and are always listening to the voices in our community. We are developing more tools that allow our Hubs to run their own operations more smoothly and be even greater Hubs to our customers.
 
5. Where do you envision for 3D Hubs in three to five years?
I want my mother to 3D print! Right now it’s mainly used by early-adopters and designers, but I want everyone to start using 3D printing and contribute to efficient manufacturing: 3D printing promotes local, community based creation and for on-demand production it’s very fast – it takes just a few hours to make something! That does require finding more partners, teaming up with consumer brands and showing people what 3D printing can do for them and how easy it is.
 
6. What is your favourite 3D Hubs ‘member story’?
E-Nable is an inspiring example of how 3D printing can truly impacts people’s lives. E-Nable is a community of makers that are making 3D printed prosthetic devices for kids that can be downloaded for free, creating affordable customized hands for kids in need. We admire them for building and fostering a community of volunteers, showing what greater things people can do together.
 
7. What is your advice to other startups in the sharing (or collaborative) economy?
Being close to your users, and carefully listen to their feedback and insights to improve whatever you’re doing. That’s is what we’re trying to do through our forum 3D Hubs Talk, our Mayor program and 200 meetups that they organised last year.
 
8. What is your advice to traditional companies and corporations?
Traditional companies should understand that digital manufacturing technologies (such as 3D printing) are rapidly changing the way that consumer products can be designed, manufactured and distributed. This will hugely impact consumer demand; I believe they will expect faster production times, instantpep availability and customization of products.
 
9. Why does the sharing (or collaborative) economy have the future?
I’m a true believer in a service-based economy in which we don’t have to own ‘things’ but we just need access to solutions – people want access, not ownership. It would solve a lot of inefficiencies and eliminate waste in this world.
 
Let me sketch why our collaborative network of 3D printers could be the future: community­ run micro­operations could substitute today’s factories. Products could be made on­ demand and closer to their point of purchase, with both individuals and companies driving their design and innovation. Everyone can become a designer and manufacturer. Once used en masse, we would cut down transport pollution and long shipping times of the current centralized production processes. Suddenly, making and distributing products would not only be cheaper and better for the environment but great for local economies as well.

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