3D Printing is naturally and uniquely suited to distributed production across many sites. 3Diligent has qualified and networked the providers to do distributed manufacturing right.
Despite less than stellar stock performance from a few publicly traded market leaders who placed unfortunate bets on consumer 3D printing, the additive manufacturing industry as a whole is indisputably in a state of rapid expansion.
Innovation is happening across myriad industries. Surgeons are improving patient recovery times and care through custom 3D Printed implants. Aerospace companies are shedding pounds off their planes and months off their time to market with topologically-optimized designed-for-3D parts. Manufacturing companies are creating highly complex jigs, fixtures, and molding inserts with 3D printing to bring down costs of production and increase efficiency.
The Catalyst: Proliferation of Industrial 3D Printing Processes and Materials
All of this is brought about by a proliferation of new 3D Printing technologies and materials that are allowing for ever-expanding applications. No longer exclusively the province of 3D Systems and Stratasys, innovation is coming from all corners.
The metals world is led by a mixed bag of companies including EOS, Concept Laser, Arcam, SLM Solutions, ExOne, and Renishaw, with prospects like XJet and Desktop Metal on the way. With respect to plastics and resins, just look to the recent launch of Carbon and the impending market arrivals of flagship products from Voxel8 and HP as indications that competition is not just from imitators, but true innovators, with each bringing unique capabilities to bear.
The Problem: Identifying the Right Process/Material Combination to Meet Your Additive Manufacturing Needs
In aggregate, it’s clearly an exciting time for the industry. But if you’re a user rather than manufacturer of these technologies, where does all this leave you and your company? Advancement in technology is wonderful – it brings the promise that you’ll soon be able to do more, faster. But it comes with a very clear caveat emptor. With rapidly evolving technology comes risk of ownership. The costs of buying equipment and material, training staff, and servicing the machinery are significant – and come with the threat that it will all be for naught when the next big thing hits the market.
It’s no wonder then that many companies often choose to offload that risk and learning curve onto outsourced service providers – or service bureaus as they are otherwise known.
But does an outsource service provider really solve the problem? Overall customer satisfaction with service providers suggests the answer is no. Prices are sometimes insanely high, material availability is spotty, and lead times can be weeks. Of course, this makes sense. These service providers face the same constraints that their customers do – they can realistically only carry a subset of machinery and materials, and as a result, customers are constrained by what providers are running when. It seems as often as not, service providers are calling a friend at another provider for a quote, adding a few percent to that price, and seeing whether the customer will take it. It’s no wonder that for a technology that is supposed to bring down costs and increase speed, things tend to feel expensive and slow!
3Diligent: A Next Generation Solution for a Next Generation Technology
One Los Angeles-based startup is looking to solve this industry dilemma: 3Diligent. In light of the rapidly evolving landscape for this next generation technology, the team at 3Diligent believes a next generation service solution is required.
3Diligent is in some ways like Uber or Amazon for industrial grade additive manufacturing. Both of those companies created a superior customer experience by creating digital connective tissue between demand and sources of supply that might otherwise go untapped. Both also provide you a range of mid-to-high end options depending on your need at the moment. Just think, on Amazon you might buy a TV from a retailer you wouldn’t find online in a million years, or via Uber you might hitch a ride from a guy named Jim that you couldn’t have known was game to drive you halfway across town at a moment’s notice. Both provide tremendous customer benefit by connecting the dots of the market with hyper efficiency.
3Diligent is bringing this distributed supply, on-demand model to the industrial 3D printing world. Over the past two years, the 3Diligent team has vetted and qualified industrial service providers for its 3D printing service. The 3Diligent network now represents several dozen industrial service providers across North America representing roughly a half billion dollars in annual manufacturing capacity. At any given point, there are hundreds of 3Diligent-networked machines ready for a new project, running dozens of different resins, plastics, and metals.
Implications of a Distributed Industrial Manufacturing Partner for Your Business
What does this mean for you as a customer? An expectation of faster turnarounds and highly competitive prices on your prototyping for a start. Customers across many industries visit 3Diligent.com to submit RFQs, which the 3Diligent algorithm then analyzes to identify capable vendors and facilitate real-time bidding for the work. Customers accept bids on the platform, and 3Diligent guarantees the quality of parts, offering customers a full refund unless agreed upon specs, tolerances, and delivery deadlines are met.
Figure 4. 3Diligent’s algorithm and team of experts analyze RFQs and identify the most capable vendors for that particular job.
Pushing toward production runs? Again, 3Diligent offers the prospect of a flexible and scalable partner by operating as a general contractor for project runs across its distributed network. By its nature, this network provides more capacity than any single provider along with the ability to rapidly scale up. 3Diligent also offers a hedge against supply chain disruption, as its distributed network across North America prevents local calamities from impacting your broader production.
It is an indisputably exciting time for innovation in 3D printing. Hardware is advancing rapidly, which is good news for speed and reliability. New materials are being announced regularly, opening the door to new applications. And 3Diligent continues to advance its software and service offering, ensuring customers can access this rapidly expanding universe of opportunities through its next generation 3D Printing service.
Cullen Hilkene is CEO of 3Diligent, a 3D printing service provider. He is an alumnus of Princeton University, the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and Deloitte Strategy and Operations Consulting.
A version of this article previously appeared on Engineering.com.