Sep 13, 2018

3D Hubs’ 3D Printing Going Fully B2B, to Leave Low Activity Makers Behind

A communication from 3D Hubs to hub operators spells the end times for the service’s original business model. From October, highly rated hubs must be registered as businesses and apply to become Manufacturing Partners; smaller operations are out.

In a move foreshadowed by automation experiments and the broadening of professional services over the last 12 months, 3D Hubs has called time on its open, peer-to-peer network of 3D printing hubs. From October, all printing on the service will be handled by vetted Manufacturing Partners enlisted to the platform’s Fulfilled by 3D Hubs program.

An email sent out to registered Hubs yesterday details the changes.

From October 1, 2018, the 3D printing aspect of 3D Hubs will switch from its current mix of local, hub-based operators and the Fulfilled by 3D Hubs offering, to simply the latter.

A streamlined algorithm-aided ordering process whereby clients are automatically matched to a professional service, Fulfilled by 3D Hubs is one way in which the company aims to meet the demands of its growing professional clientele. We first got a glimpse of this back in 2017 (and the subsequent blowback from Hubs on Reddit), when the offering was first trialed

The switch is the next step in 3D Hubs’ gradual walk from being an open platform matching local makers with those in need of prints, to a fully fledged manufacturing service.

In the email, 3D Hubs founders Brian Garret and Bram de Zwart explain: “Since we started we have produced more than 1.7 million parts for customers through our online platform and global network of manufacturing Hubs. We’ve noticed that as our platform has improved over the years, the customers who order most often are businesses…”. They continue “ it has become more and more essential for 3D Hubs to deliver a highly reliable and consistent manufacturing service to our customers.

You could argue that the move is stripping 3D Hubs of its unique selling point — the ability to cater to projects with hyper-localized manufacturing. Removing this granularity pits 3D Hubs more against the likes of Shapeways and Sculpteo.

In a blog post that also details the change, 3D Hubs outlines future features — including instant quotes for all of its offered processes with single checkout — that it hopes will improve the platform.

3D Hub’s homepage — emphasizing professional and quick parts.

What Now for Existing Hubs?

You could say the writing has been on the wall for some time now. Fulfilled by 3D Hubs was trialed in North America last year, with automatic hub selection to simplify the ordering process and linking clients to select hubs that perform well.

Talking to All3DP last year, following the aforementioned Reddit storm in a 3D printed teacup, de Zwart told of the experiment’s success: “We’ve been running it for three weeks in North America, and we’ve seen a 27 percent increase in customer conversion since the experiment started. If it continues to go well in the US and we continue to see a strong increase in conversion, then it’s likely that we will expand to other geographies.”

For small-time operators on the platform hoping to remain an option, their time is, sadly, up. From October 1, 2018, only registered Manufacturing Partners will be able to fulfill 3D printing jobs.

In brief, to become a Manufacturing Partner a hub must fulfil the following: have a weighted order completion rate of 85%+ (over the last 50 orders), have a hub rating over 4.7 (over last 50 orders), have an average response time under 45 minutes, be a registered business with the ability to provide invoices, have a valid VAT number (EU), operate and review orders within business hours, offer flat-rate shipping and comply with sundry other 3D Hubs branding and confidentiality agreements.

It’s clear that if you’re not at that level already, there’s little time to goose your hub performance and slip through the door before it closes.

So, the 3D Hubs of old is gone. But all is not completely lost. Garret and de Zwart close the message out with their thanks to the pioneering Hubs that made the business possible and direct those locked out of Fulfilled by 3D Hubs to the company’s Talk Maker forum. Here, Hubs can freely connect with local makers, hobbyists and students interested to get their projects 3D printed. While this is by no means a full-blown replacement of our peer-to-peer platform, we hope we can keep supporting makers, hobbyist and students to keep printing locally.”

It’s unclear to us at this point if Hubs’ dashboards will remain accessible to facilitate the above, or if these transactions will happen solely on the forum and in private. We suspect the latter.

License: The text of "3D Hubs’ 3D Printing Going Fully B2B, to Leave Low Activity Makers Behind" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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