Note: The following was co-authored by senior consultant Tim Caffrey and principal consultant Terry Wohlers, both of Wohlers Associates
From London and Paris to Dayton and Denver, a number of independent brick-and-mortar 3D print shops have opened, offering customers a local resource for 3D printing. These retailers typically offer print-on-demand services using material-extrusion 3D printers. Many also sell 3D printers, offer 3D scanning services, and provide training and demonstrations of the technology for potential customers. For example, the 3D Printing Store in Denver, Colorado operates three MakerBot Replicator 2 machines and one Stratasys uPrint and sells premade and custom 3D items. It also provides the chance for more advanced customers to schedule time on machines for time-consuming projects.
The new Bmore3D is the first retail store in the mid-Atlantic region focused on 3D printing and 3D scanning. Customers can shop a curated gallery of rings, earrings, necklaces, vases, and a range of Baltimore-themed pieces. The store also includes ShapeShot, a fully automated 3D photo booth developed by Direct Dimensions. Customers can order 3D-printed busts, bobbleheads, jewelry, and ceramic coffee mugs that include a scale model of their face. Babies, pets, and entire families are candidates to be scanned and 3D printed.
The business model of using 3D printing (also referred to as additive manufacturing) to build parts for customers is not new. AM service providers, also known as service bureaus, have been around nearly as long the AM industry itself. However, design and manufacturing companies are the typical customers of these industrial-oriented companies. Using high-end professional-grade equipment, they build parts for companies in automotive, consumer products, medical, and many other industries. Contrast this with the new 3D print shops, which are targeting a new type of customer that is much less familiar with the technology.
One has to wonder whether sufficient demand—and 3D content—will develop for these new companies. Long-term success for these independent brick-and-mortar 3D print shops could prove to be a challenge. Meanwhile, corporate heavyweights Staples and UPS have launched trials for local 3D printing services in a select group of stores. It will be interesting to see how this market develops and evolves over the next couple years.