3D Printing Materials Corporation, a new source for 3D printing materials, plans to use a crowd-sourcing model to identify innovative new material solutions and test them with expert users.
The idea came out of discussions between some former employees of Z Corporation and some expert users in the community who wanted to see more material options and continued innovation. They say that once it became clear there were experts with materials ideas, experts willing to test new formulations or products – and a demand for alternatives – the "business plan pretty much wrote itself."
3DPMC says they provide a marketplace and forum, and then the company makes some revenue on each item or product sold. The profits are then shared with the innovators who created them.
Once a new material has been submitted, the material is evaluated for safety and then vetted by members of the expert user community, typically a user or expert in 3D printing. For materials that are highly rated the company contracts for high quality formulation and packaging, makes the solution available through 3DPMC.com, and pays a royalty to the individual or group that submitted the material.
"3DPMC currently offers wash fluids and binders for powder/binder type systems – each of these was submitted by an expert user," said Doris Funkhauser, 3DPMC Marketing Director. "Since the site has gone up we've had a range of submissions for other products – we've had five additional submissions and are deciding now which to move forward to user testing."
3DPMC says that when a user submits a material they've developed themselves, the company reviews it for marketability first. Then the company provides free samples of the new material to the expert user community for testing and if users find it valuable, they go on to estimate a market price and production cost. A royalty for the developer is then negotiated using price, cost and any unique performance level as factors in the discussion. At that point, both parties sign a license agreement and 3DPMC tracks all sales of the product and pays out the appropriate royalty amount quarterly.
From their current warehouse near Boston, 3DPMC works with partners involved in requesting products, submitting formulations and providing testing and feedback from around the world.
Funkhauser said that once a new material has been submitted and vetted, a call goes out into the company's network of users asking for those willing to test the new product. She said that as the new product submissions have often been developed by expert users, there may already be a performance and reliability history before the product goes out for testing.
The testing could take place anywhere around the globe. In the case of the binder products the company is now offering, they've been tested in the US and Europe at a range of user sites. The testers provide their performance and reliability data and feedback, and if a given product performs well, 3DPMC then selects a quality production and packaging source and makes the product available on their website.
Funkhauser said Mike Vogel, formerly a VP of Research and Development at Z Corporation, is a board member at the company, and that Vogel's experience in his former capacity makes them confident that their product testing process is appropriate and adequate.
"All of the ideas so far have come from users. We've collected a broad range of product requests from the user community – and please keep them coming – and will serve as matchmaker between market needs and materials developers going forward," Funkhauser said. "We'll suggest the product needs to those with relevant expert skills. We don't intend to employ our own development staff because we don't need to – there's already a wealth of skill and knowledge out there in the space for us to tap into."
According to Funkhauser, the company's network also includes users of metal sintering equipment and developers with expertise in powdered metal.
"Our broader vision is to create and nurture a community where users can shout out their product requests, expert developers can propose solutions, expert users can test the products and provide feedback and the whole community can access these products to take this field in exciting new directions," she added.
"One risk to trying a new material on a 3D printer is being sure of quality and compatibility. 3DPMC's approach and the expertise of those both developing solutions and testing them before release should make any potential user feel comfortable," Vogel says. "Some of those developing solutions were the brains behind some of the most important breakthroughs in 3D printing."