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Amazon advances the 3D printing market... or does it?

05 Aug 14

Not by much, that’s for sure, at least not now. But the potential is there.

Amazon’s 3D Printed Products Store “enables customers to customise and personalise items like earrings, pendants, rings, bobble head dolls and more.”

But look closely and today you’ll find 20 items composed of plastic jewelry, a few pieces of metal jewelry and a bobble-head doll.

The idea behind Amazon’s store is to support the creation of 3D prints that are truly personalised, as opposed to other websites’ offerings that are no more than a stocking item that is produced with a 3D printer.

As such, Amazon’s store helps promote 3D printing among consumers by enabling them to create a truly personalised item such as a piece of jewelry and have it 3D printed on demand.

But Amazon will need a much, much wider variety of designs and materials — and a much better representation of what the finished item could look like. The personalisation tool, too, is interesting but weak:

In this and other examples, the image is pixelated and somewhat coarse.

Personalisation is what truly differentiates 3D printing from other manufacturing technologies. Yet the font selection is limited (actually there are no choices) and so are the number of characters (I prefer a sealer that includes my middle initial so it reads PRB).

I suppose that Amazon wouldn’t be Amazon without trying to cross-sell other items. But, in true junk mail fashion, what did I see?

I am definitely NOT interested in a roller with 150 titanium alloy needles on it, even if it comes in a nice travel case.

For now, check out MYMO (which made the beautiful silver pendant that I gave my wife) and Neiman-Marcus as two examples of websites offering personalised jewelry that is 3D printed – and personalized.

That said, the lessons that come from Amazon’s initiative will certainly support any plans that it may have to enable 3D print on demand (3D POD) for its business partners.

Rather than stocking very slow movers, Amazon could 3D POD from its various warehouses. If it chose to do so then Amazon would be competing with the various 3D print service bureaus in the States, Europe and elsewhere.

But for now the store is not a breakthrough as much as another very small evolutionary step in the 3D print market’s development.

As my colleague Hendrik Bartel said, “Amazon will attract a few new buyers, but this is no Etsy. However, I think the 3D printing store has enough low hanging fruit for Amazon to try it out, learn and be ready for the real 3D printing consumer application.”

By Pete Basiliere - Research Director, Gartner