3D printing is gaining traction, especially for rapid prototyping and small series production. While large companies like GE can afford to build their own 3D printing facilities, small and medium-size companies are often reluctant to take the risk. For good reasons: The technology is still developing and today’s state-of-the-art printers may be out-of-date a few years from now. Many smaller businesses also have neither the expertise nor the throughput numbers to justify the fairly large investment necessary to obtain 3D printers suited for industrial use.
“I recommend working with a service provider for companies who want to gain know-how but are not ready to have their own additive manufacturing facilities”, says Matthias Baldinger, co-founder of Additively.com, a B2B platform for additive manufacturing. His goal is to connect 3D printing service providers with SMEs who are in need of rapid prototyping or small series production.
“Every product is different and depending on the process requirements and the specifications for the material, we can recommend a provider”, he says. “In one example, the costs varied from 13 to 340 Euros between providers, depending on their business models even when the same technologies and materials were used”, he says. While some providers focus on small series, others concentrate on larger volume orders and the different business models account for the differences in price. Baldinger sees working with a 3D service provider as a good way to gain experience with the new technology before deciding whether an investment in 3D equipment is really adding value.
Currently, there are 250 service providers on Additively.com, which makes it the largest 3D printing B2B platform in Europe, according to Baldinger. He also says that several hundred companies are already using his service, which was incorporated as a company in 2013.
Additively also aims to serve as an information platform with background articles and case studies. In the pro version, Additively offers additional consulting services, in the business user version, SMEs can upload their digital data and are matched with the appropriate service provider. Some experts are skeptical whether many companies will take advantage of this offer: “Uploading one’s data for a new prototype is risky and there are companies who want to keep this information proprietary”, says one visitor at the trade show Prodex, where the platform was presented during a forum discussion.
Baldinger says that all service providers on Additively.com are required to keep the clients’ data confidential. The requests from companies are also rendered anonymous so that the providers are unable to tell which companies are working on which prototypes. “There are companies who request even greater protection of their proprietary data,” says Baldinger. “We are currently working on a new solution so that we can offer this with select providers directly on our platform”.