3D printing necessity turns out to be mother of new service invention

makexyz 3D printer serviceMany products bear out the old adage, Necessity is the Mother of Invention, and this also proved true for new 3D Printing service MakeXYZ. Founder Nathan Tone wanted to 3D Print something pretty simple. The Austin computer professional and designer had an idea for a practical light switch with a hook that allowed him to come in, turn on the lights and drop his keys in a convenient location all at the same time.

So Nathan garnered his CAD skills, created a design and shipped it off to one of the popular 3D printing services. A full month later he got the cool switch plate back. That started him thinking about how to cut that lead-time. “I’m really all about helping people make stuff,” says Nathan and “I knew other people had to be frustrated with slow delivery from distant manufacturers. Local production came immediately to mind as a solution.”

While many are calling MakeXYZ the AirBnB of 3D printing, Nathan sees it as operating in the “intersection of 3D printing and Collaborative Community. There are so many people with excess cycles, it just makes sense to create a place where that excess capacity is utilized.”

Of course, MakeXYZ is actually a textbook example of crowdsourcing. As described in the landmark book of the same name by Jeff Howe, one of crowdsourcing’s main elements is to harness excess capacity. In some cases it’s an extra space to rent, and in the MakeXYZ case it’s a 3D Printer’s idle time.

From an ecological perspective, of course, sourcing a 3D Printer locally eliminates shipping and the associated use of fossil fuels to get it there. The elimination of shipping fees for expedited delivery more than offset the 5% fee paid to MakeXYZ. In many cases, the customer can arrange to pick up their part themselves, getting them in their hands even faster.

Nathan says that in a few months they have about 500 printers signed up all over the country. In looking at the location list online, there were printers in the obvious places like San Jose, CA and New York City. But it was cool to see people listed in smaller cities and towns like Mayville, MI and Collegeville, PA using everything from the MakerBot to a Printrbot Jr to the Stratasys Dimension Elite. The printer sets the price for the part, and MakeXYZ handles the payments for them. If the printer determines the files cannot be printed, the customer is refunded.

As with all digital manufacturing, getting files in a format printers can actually use is a challenge. Nathan says, “We’re looking to make that process easier for customers. Right now we only accept .stl files, but we’re working to expand that. I’d like to eventually be able to help designers go from conceptualization to CAD file.”

Right now MakeXYZ is internally funded. When asked what his goals are for the new venture, Nathan comes back to, “my goal has always been to help as many people as possible make things. MakeXYZ will get as big as it needs to be to make that happen.” My observation in business has been that companies whose goals are customer-centric tend to succeed which bodes well for a company that started trying to improve the customer experience for getting 3D printed parts.