Shapeways attracts a lot of press, but there are other interesting companies out there.
processes and materials. Just like Shapeways they offer a marketplace for designers to showcase their wares to drive on-demand sales. And just like Shapeways they offer product finishing services.
Browsing the i.Materialize gallery one cannot escape the conclusion that the 3D printed objects look very similar to those found in the Shapeways gallery. So why would a designer or consumer choose i.Materialise over Shapeways or vice versa?
A consumer with no intention to learn 3D design would probably just browse both galleries to find an attractive product. The winner will be the service offering the most desirable products at the right prices.
As a designer, both companies would be able to realize the majority of their 3D designs, but one or the other will probably provide higher quality, larger size, subtle finish or a service more relevant to their business model. The choice will depend on many tiny details to do with the additive manufacturing process options provided, or the terms of finance, e.g. designer fee percentages.
Since both service bureaus operate a buyer-marketplace, designers will probably choose to host their product designs in each, even if they decide to work with one company as their primary relationship.
For makers, however, just starting out and learning about the complexity of 3D design, the company that offers the best tools, learning and start-up experience will win.
The end game for companies like i.Materialise and Shapeways will be their ability to attract venture capital, broaden the range of services offered, to scale their operation and to provide exemplary service.
The winner is likely to be the company that offers the most comprehensive and reliable marketplace of 3D designers, 3D data and 3D processes.
So what happens to both of these pioneering companies when Amazon enter the market? Will Amazon build its own factory of the future? Or will Shapeways and i.Materialise appear inside Amazon's retail front end?
Consider this scenario:
Shapeways and i.Materialise have both created an entirely new product category. The unique 3D-printable products on show in their galleries are available no where else, literally. The additive manufacturing processes that create theses products are themselves a product, hard to find elsewhere in quite the same convenient and accessible form.
And then what happens when every company producing similar items also provide a 3D-printer powered mass-customization 'Make App' or 'Make Button' of their own?
Just as Amazon has become the channel to market for so many companies, won't Amazon want to absorb the 'Make' feature in every viable product category it covers? As as it does so, how will Amazon's CEO think about that factory of the future?