<i>The</i> Social Network for 3D Printers

The 3D printing industry seems to be taking off quite rapidly. More people are looking to design, prototype, iterate, and print their own products from the comfort of their own home or work environment. Though the maker world is thriving, 3D printers remain expensive -- lower-end models cost more than $1,000. While many people wait for printer prices to come down, a maker's expressive, design-oriented mind does not.

If you cannot afford a 3D printer, how can you possibly get access to one to flesh out your latest design? There is a clear and growing demand for an affordable (and preferably local) option, and makexyz may have the solution -- a social network for 3D printers.

Several companies, such as Shapeways and i.materialise, have taken note of the maker's dilemma and have established themselves as 3D printing marketplaces that bring high-quality printing services within the average consumer's reach. You can choose your preferred printing material and receive an instant quote that includes shipping anywhere in the world. However, these services, which are still in the developmental stage, do not meet the needs of designers who must obtain copies of their designs for immediate testing and iteration.

We recently discussed a plan by Staples to partner with Mcor and bring 3D printing services to the retail market. Users upload their design to the Staples website to have it printed, and they receive the results in the mail or at the nearest store. Unfortunately, the Mcor printer offers only glued-paper printing, and, to top it off, the Staples service is available only in Belgium and the Netherlands right now.

If established 3D printing services and an office supply chain can't solve the maker's dilemma, who can? The solution is actually rather simple. Like Airbnb's social service that connects travelers looking for a place to stay with people who have living space to spare, makexyz is connecting designers looking for 3D printing with available printers in their neighborhood.

Nathan Tone and Chad Masso created makexyz this year. Within a month and a half, more than 550 people had signed up for the service. People with 3D printers can create a printer profile, set their price ($/cm3), and wait for orders. Those looking for a printer simply browse by ZIP code, choose a printer that matches their preference (price, material, and color availability), and either pick up the product or have it delivered.

The founders have been careful to keep prices low. They are based on the design's volume and generally range from 25 cents to $1.50 per cubic centimeter. Shapeways' services start at around $0.75/cm3. Makexyz tacks on a 5 percent charge for its services, so most print jobs cost about $15.

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