Geo Week News

July 30, 2014

Amazon Goes 3D

Amazon Bobblehead

The big news on the internet this week is Amazon’s foray into 3D printing, which many are calling an important vote of confidence for the future of the industry. Properly speaking, Amazon is not getting into the game itself, but debuting a shop featuring items 3D printed by existing companies. You can now use Amazon to shop Sculpteo’s catalog of 3D-printed baubles, like a bird pendant, a decorative plate, or a model of “Darwin’s Cladogram Tree With Finches,” which looks like a prop for a Tim Burton film. Some products even include a “Create Your Own” option, which provides you with an interface for “personalizing” your 3D-printed objects. Use it to customize your own 3D-molecule earrings, or order a $30 bobblehead that kind of looks like you (see the screenshot for my incredibly poor attempt at making one that looks like me).

What does this mean for the 3D-printing industry? Here’s a roundup of reactions from a few of the big media outlets, most of whom agree that Amazon’s announcement means big things for introducing 3D technologies to the public.


  • Mashable has this interesting take from Idea Labs CEO Bill Gross, who believes that Amazon’s store will create public enthusiasm for 3D printing. Here’s Gross: “Anything that gives more people a ‘taste’ of how great 3D printing is makes it more mainstream. I think this will make the desire to have a home printer even greater. [This] only makes the demand/desire to print something on the spot — be it for self-expression, or a replacement part, or a mockup, or an invention — greater than ever.” It’s clear Gross believes that even professionals who use 3D are going to benefit from Amazon’s decision.


  • The Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch blog is cautious about the positive effects of Amazon’s store on the 3D-printing industry, noting how “praise for the company’s efforts didn’t translate into gains Monday, as shares of major 3-D printer makers retreated. ExOne Co. XONE +3.61% was down 2.6%, while Stratasys SSYS +1.82% slipped 1.5% and 3D Systems DDD +2.52% shed 1%.” Still, they are careful to mention that Amazon’s move may count as a “validation of the industry” with lasting effects.


  • CNN’s Money blog talks to Nancy Liang, co-founder of Mixee Labs, one of Amazon’s new partner companies. She compares Amazon’s new site to “the app store for the physical world.” Though I’m not entirely sure what that means, it certainly sounds cool.


  • The Verge reminds us that eBay beat Amazon to the “3D printed trinket” game with an iPhone app. Then they include the de rigeur copy about how 3D printing is going to revolutionize our consumer experience. 


  • Reading through the coverage on sites like CNET, it’s clear from the language used that the media at large still isn’t sold on the usefulness of 3D printing. Some choice words used to describe the products you can buy on Amazon: “nicknacks,” “trinkets,” “toys.”


  • My takeaway: Any development in the industry that spreads knowledge of 3D technologies and processes is a good thing, even if that development involves toys and baubles. In fact, maybe the connection to less serious things is a boon. Microsoft’s Kinect continues to act as a gateway for people to learn about 3D scanning technology, and Amazon’s new store could serve a similar function for the other end of the 3D-production process. The more potential clients who see 3D technologies as cool, revolutionary, and useful, the better it is for all of you.


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