How Will Amazon’s Investment in 3D Impact the Market?

By | March 9, 2015

Amazon logoIn case you haven’t heard, is the latest major player to make an investment in 3D printing. How will this affect the market?

For about a year, has been quietly playing in this space, partnering with companies like Mixee Labs to bring 3D products to their customers. Mixee Labs offers a variety of 3D products that Amazon customers can order and have shipped to their homes, but their signature product is a customizable bobblehead doll (clothing, facial features, hair) to make it look like themselves or someone they know.

In February of this year, announced a deepening of its partnership with Mixee, bringing the Mixee Labs team in with’s 3D team. The partnership will be headed by Andrew Thomas, 3D designer and former customer service coordinator of Shapeways.

In the latest news, has filed for a patent that will allow it to produce 3D products on demand via “mobile manufacturing hubs.” The move appears to be an attempt to reduce its warehouse costs. already does this with books, with many of its titles printed on demand through Ingram Distribution, which is owned by Lightning Source Inc.

As reported by 3D Print

By utilizing ‘mobile manufacturing apparatuses Amazon would be able to send an STL file to a mobile unit that’s closest to a customer, providing it with instructions to print out an item which was ordered. When the item has been completed, it could then be within miles of the customer who ordered it and quickly delivered or picked up.

Commercial printers aren’t going to be competing with to produce bobbleheads and plastic parts, so what does this mean for you?

Benefit: It increases the visibility of 3D printing among both businesses and consumers, creating the perception and expectation that 3D production is a viable option for all manner of products. This continues to build the foundation for potential discussions involving 3D products with your customers (whatever that model looks like).

Drawback: It increases the competition for providing those products. Anytime giants like get involved, it becomes the easy solution. We can easily see this model growing to accommodate promotional products and other items used in marketing. This continues to move printers into the position of being idea generators and developers or more complex solutions, not pure output providers.

How do you see investment in 3D printing impacting this industry?

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3 thoughts on “How Will Amazon’s Investment in 3D Impact the Market?

  1. Heidi Tolliver-Walker

    C’mon folks — I know you have opinions. I shared this out on LinkedIn’s Digital Printing discussion group and it’s generated a really great discussion. I know y’all have some opinions. Let’s hear them!

  2. Rudi

    First, will this someday be possible? Sure the technology in this space will undoubtedly allow this at some point. 1 year, 3 yrs, 5 yrs? Possible but not probable, but hey I read posts on blogs in the last 2 years from folks saying that ink jet would never be acceptable in the production space. Who am I to predict the future.

    How is this wrong? Let me count the ways –

    Filed for a patent. Anybody can file for a patent on anything. That in and of itself is meaningless. IF the patent office grants this patent it is clear that the system is irreparably broken (as if this is not already the case). I take 1 technology for which many of the patents have expired and place it inside another technology whose patents have expired, and magically I have an entirely new device which IS patentable. Nothing new here, move along. Is it too late to patent the making of ice cream cones from the back of a truck?

    Speed. Maybe you’ve not used a 3D printer, but unless the truck is driving from Phoenix to LA it is going to spend HOURS in your driveway waiting on the piece to be completed before ringing your door bell.

    Technology. This is maybe possible with a low end “fishing line” technology. Will the customer be happy with a fairly low quality reproduction? At least in the short term that’s what you can expect. Think a bit lower quality than a cheap Chinese knockoff. Want a higher quality piece using a layered bed technology (bonded powder, SLS)? Sorry that whole motion thing is going to turn that to crap. To say nothing of the build, clean, and prep time (see speed above). Most people who have not used the higher end devices do not realize build times are hours and hours long, followed by significant work after the piece is “printed”.

    Prepress. I giggle at the phrase “send an STL file to a mobile unit”. If you thought you had problems printing customer supplied files on your offset press in the 1980’s, be prepared for a whole new level of hell. The difficulty with 3D files will be exponentially more difficult. Build times measured in hours. You often won’t know the build failed until 6 hours has gone by. And you’ve spent more dollars in material than the profit in the piece “building to scrap”.

    I think that Amazon is grabbing a headline, scatter shooting at stuff hoping to get lucky and patent something they won’t develop so it essentially costs them nothing but may reap big rewards before it expires. After all even FedEx does not operate most of their home delivery trucks, and Amazon wants to deliver by drone in metropolitan areas. I’ll take that bet that drones to the home happen before 3D trucks park out front with your order.

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker

    Maybe the technology isn’t there, but I’m thinking more along the lines of an indicator of direction. Unless this is simply a publicity stunt (which, admittedly, it might be), it does indicate the direction that some big players are thinking. Amazon already offers some level of POD for 3D printing, and it is my understanding that they are the largest reseller of 3D devices. So the filing of a patent has some level of significance. The question is, what does it REALLY tell us?

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