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An Interview with Bram de Zwart, CEO and co-founder, 3D Hubs
Posted by 3DP4E
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By Adam Haigh | CastleInk

As 3D printing continues its explosion, one area that will grow alongside it are depositories of printable designs. And while maybe someday almost everyone that wants one may own a 3D printer, that has not happened quite yet. As we mentioned in a recent posting, MakerBot, arguably the biggest name in 3D printing for a variety of audiences, has partnered with 3D Hubs to make it easier than ever before for those that do not own a 3D printer themselves to get an object printed. 3D Hubs provides users a network of over 16,000 different 3D printers available for use around the globe. To learn more about how it all works, we reached out to the company and were granted an interview with CEO and co-founder, Bram de Zwart. The interview was conducted via email, and the transcript is here below.

1)When was 3D Hubs founded and why? Had anyone had previous experience with 3D printing?

We launched 3D Hubs in April 2013. Brian and I wanted more people to get involved with 3D printing technology, having seen its potential.

While working at 3D Systems, Brian and I saw that the install base of 3D printers was quickly increasing but at the same time discovered that most 3D printer owners only use them occasionally. 90% of the time their 3D printer just sits around. By unlocking this idle capacity and connecting it to one online platform, we saw an opportunity to bring 3D printing much closer to the end-user.

When we started talking to 3D printer owners, we found out that they were very open to the thought of printing for others, our local 3D printing service 3D Hubs was born!.

2) According to your website, you have partnered with well over 15,000 local printers. How does someone get affiliated with 3D Hubs, or how does your company expand its network?

We are proud to see the number of connecting printers growing every day since we launched. We are an open platform, so If you own a 3D printer, you can register it on 3D Hubs.

Before your printer becomes publicly accessible on 3D Hubs, we will ask you to test print our Marvin on either Thingiverse orSketchfab. If the quality of the test print meets our requirements, your printer will become available and you can start accepting orders.

3D Hubs has now over 16,000 printers worldwide on our platform, allowing 1 billion people to access 3D printing within 10 miles of their home.

3) What are the requirements to be affiliated/be a member of the 3D Hubs community? Is it restricted to certain kinds of printers?

3D Hubs’ community consists of both 3D printer owners and 3D printing enthusiasts. The only requirement for a Hub to connect to the 3D Hubs platform and be part of our community is to have a functioning and active 3D printer on our platform, and carry out good quality prints. We accept every type of printer, from desktop to professional devices, as we want to keep a diverse offering of 3D printers on our platform

4) How does the pricing structure work for objects? Do you all issue the standards, or is it up to the individual Hubs?

We provide an instant price quoting feature that allows our users to instantly see how much their uploaded design would cost to print. The price ranges per Hub varies, as Hubs set their own prices, which is broken down to a fixed start-up fee plus the cost per cubic millimeter per material. This flexible pricing structure enables our Hubs to stay competitive, making 3D Hubs one of the most cost efficient solutions when it comes to 3D printing.

5) Is there a particular audience you are aiming at with your business?

Our goal is to broaden the reach of 3D printing. Right now we see our platform is mostly used by early-adopters and professional users, but we want everyone to start using 3D printing and contribute to efficient distributed manufacturing. We see two main benefits of 3D Hubs distributed manufacturing model, compared to traditional centralized mass production:

Reducing transport: Distributed manufacturing means that we can make products much closer to end-user and eliminates much of today’s pollution coming from container ships and trucks transporting consumer products across the planet.

On-demand production: With digital manufacturing, like 3D printing, products are made based on digital files and can therefore be produced immediately at the push of a button. The implications of this is huge as it means production no longer requires inventory and large warehouses to store that.

6) When someone uploads a design to your site, is it checked for accuracy and correctness, or do you rely on the expertise of the individuals who uploaded it?

We check every file uploaded automatically to make sure it’s suitable for 3D printing. The Hub you placed your order with has the final responsibility to review your design before it will be printed, as every printer has specific requirements.

7) We can see from your Materials Guide that users have many different options. Would you say that most of the prints tend to be designed for 3D printed plastics (ABS/PLA)?

We publish a monthly Trend report on 3D printing, which provides many insights on what our community is printing, the type of printers they use and the most popular printers in every region of the world.

The most common 3D prints are made of PLA and ABS, but this is changing fast. New resins and new kind of filaments appear almost on a weekly basis.

8) Where do you think 3D printing will be in the next 5 to 10 years? Will 3D printing/printers become as ubiquitous as inkjets and lasers are today?

The real promise of 3D printing is to bring manufacturing closer to the end consumers. It enables products to be made on­ demand and closer to their point of purchase, with both individuals and companies driving their design and innovation.

9) On your website it indicates that students can get up to a 15% discount on prints. What do you think schools/colleges/universities can do to foster more creativity when it comes to STEM/STEAM education and 3D printing?

Our community is actively experimenting and sharing knowledge around 3D printing and STEM education on our dedicated. Students Talk. We believe there is a great opportunity for teachers to have their students get an hands-on approach to learning STEM by making things, and we try to stimulate this be offering the student discount.

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