London-headquartered VC firm Balderton Capital is betting on popular demand for 3D printing with a seed-stage investment in 3D printing network 3D Hubs.
The rate of growth for 3D printing – which does exactly what it sounds like, from digital models and using a range of materials – is tremendous. While only about 23,000 printers were sold in 2011, according to a recent McKinsey report, that’s up 300 per cent in average annual growth since 2007. The industry, as a whole, could have an economic impact of $230-$550 bn per year by 2025.
3D Hubs, a six-person team based in Amsterdam, is building a global network that connects people who want to print with 3D printer owners.
Here’s how it works: 3D printer owners sign up to be listed on their local “Hub”, which sets its own price per print plus material used. 3D Hubs performs a quality check for each uploaded digital model, delivers the order and processes the payment. It adds a 15 per cent charge on top of the quoted price for each print.
The community aspect is a big part of 3D Hubs’ offer – unlike centralised services, customers know they’re supporting local makers and can pick up prints rather than wait for them to be shipped. Expansion follows supply and demand, with cities “unlocked” once a certain number of printers become available. The network currently spans over 500 printer locations in cities including London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Antwerp and Copenhagen.
Other options include Shapeways, an online marketplace for making, buying and selling 3D printed products that ships anywhere in the world. Staples in the Netherlands and UPS in the US also plan to offer on-demand 3D printing services.
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