a2What do you do when need to have something 3D printed but do not have access to a 3D printer in your home or office? More than likely you’d turn to a 3D printing service such as Shapeways, or a global 3D printing community like 3D Hubs. Both are the leaders within their respected niches, and both companies are seemingly growing by leaps and bounds.

Some could argue that Shapeways and 3D Hubs are indirect competitors, but either way, both services are incredibly useful to literally hundreds of thousands of people.

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Recently, 3D Hubs announced that they surpassed 10,000 networked 3D printers, creating a global network of machines ranging from desktop RepRap 3D printers to professional-grade machines which cost well over $300,000. On the other hand, Shapeways hosts their own machines, charging for their service, sharing profits with designers. Oftentimes it can take well over a week to receive an order placed from Shapeways, simply because of the backlog of projects, all waiting in line to use a specific 3D printer, as well as the fact that products are all shipped from a couple main hubs. If you are in Australia, you likely will have to wait for a product to reach you from the US.

Today, Shapeways has announced a major initiative which could solve some of the issues involving the relatively long wait times customers can face when using the service. Shapeways has just launched an expansion of their Global Partner Network, through which the company seeks to learn more about their community and how they can work together in a mutually beneficial way.

With over 500,000 community members from more than 130 countries worldwide, the network of Shapeways users likely control tens of thousands of 3D printers themselves. It appears that Shapeways wants to investigate the possibility of directly competing with the likes of 3D Hubs to exploit the valuable resources of their members to benefit one another.

“What we’re really trying to do here is work with our community to figure out what is possible. Yes, there are others doing similar things but we just want to make sure we’re gathering and using the resources we have to benefit our entire community… Our goal has always been to make 3D printing accessible and affordable to everyone by bringing the best technology to market at the lowest cost,” explained Mansee Muzumdar, Public Relations Manager at Shapeways to 3DPrint.com “We have our own 3D printing factories in New York and Eindhoven for the majority of our production, and we also work with various production partners across the world to bring our community more materials at the lowest cost and fastest turnaround time. 3D printing is changing rapidly, with new materials being tested and introduced (including our own!), and we always want to give our community first access. With the Global Partner Network, we are exploring ways to expand our network of production partners so we can constantly improve our offering, including what materials we offer and how quickly we can deliver.”

The company is currently only in the exploratory stages of this initiative, through which they hope to learn quite a bit about their community, what printers members have available, and where they are located. Eventually it is possible that a setup similar to 3D Hubs could emerge where Shapeways will offer their members a profit share in exchange for them rendering services for local clients within their general vicinity.

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Shapeways urges all interested members to fill out the Global Partner Network form, and the company’s Supply Chain team will get in touch with members if they feel there is an opportnity in which many will benefit.

It will be interesting to see how this new initiative progresses, and just how closely Shapeways will be competing with companies like 3D Hubs moving forward. Have you filled out the form? Let us know if you hear anything back. Discuss this story in the Shapeways Global Partner Network forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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