This guide will give an overview of all the things that you’ll need to consider before you set up your 3D Hub. If you do a good job setting it up, then you’ll find it can be a very profitable and enjoyable experience – eventually you’ll even earn back the cost of your printer! If you find that your printer is sitting there dormant for most of the time unless a nice print idea pops into your head, then starting a hub might be just for you.
How it all works
3D Hubs is a website that allows you to list yourself as a 3D printing service (a hub) and provides a platform for customers to upload files and choose a hub to print them. The website manages all of your orders for you, and also has a very good system already in place for customer-hub communication. The site also provides excellent payment security and has print quality guidelines in place to ensure that you and your customer are on the same page regarding the expectations of your prints.
Unfortunately, you can’t just put your hub up and have the orders start flooding in. It’s not that easy. You’ll need to build up your reputation and ratings on the website in order to receive a steady number of orders. When customers upload models to be printed, 3D Hubs presents them with a list of nearby hubs that they can choose from (by default sorted by ‘recommended’). This means that broadly speaking, the higher up you are on that list, the more orders you’re going to get. Factors that can influence how high you are on the recommended list include:
- Distance from the customer
- Customer retention rate
- Order acceptance rate
- Average response time
These will all be discussed in further detail later in this post, and more to come. There’s a lot that goes into starting up your hub, but that will be discussed in the next post. This post is just to provide some background information before you begin.
The first thing for you to establish is why you actually want to run a hub. The following are some over-arching categories of why you might want to.
Running your hub as a full-time source of income
If you want to turn your 3D printer(s) into money making machines and have them work for you, read here. To do this, not only is it going to take a while to fully build up your hub’s reputation, you’ll also need to be in an area where there are a lot of people placing orders on 3D Hubs. Ideally this would be in a metropolitan area, but that’s not to say that you couldn’t be successful otherwise. It’s important to analyse your competition and see what sort of services they’re offering. Is there a gap that you can fill in the current services available, or will you need to use your prices and turnaround times to compete? Most likely you’ll want to offer a wide variety of materials in order to draw in as many different customers as you can. You’ll also probably be needing multiple printers so that you’re able to keep up with the large quantity of orders necessary to make a full-time income whilst still offering a reasonable turn-around time.
Running your hub for a small income on the side
Much like running your hub as a full-time source of income, it’s going to take some time and effort to get to a steady flow of orders even if you just want a small income. Once you do get there though, you might find yourself wanting to limit your number of orders if it’s getting to be too much. The best way to do this is either by increasing your expected turnaround time or increasing your prices. This will mean that fewer customers will be coming to your hub, so it’s important to find a balance that works for you with the right number of orders coming through. For a steady small income you’ll only need one printer, but you will still need a bit of time to spare for preparing and cleaning up prints, and also to communicate with your customers.
Running your hub for fun or to gain experience
This can be a good way to get your feet wet and decide if you want to pursue running your hub professionally. If you don’t have enough spare time to handle multiple orders a day, or just can’t be bothered, it can still be a good experience to have your printer up there and work with some customers every now and then. You’ll also have the added benefit of not really having to worry about your filament stock, and getting some pocket change every couple of days of course. It’s good to give yourself more lee-way with your expected order completion time if you’re only running your hub casually, just to make sure that you’re still able to complete all of your orders in time.
Other factors to consider
There are a few other things that you might want to consider before you dive right in to creating your hub, and these are related to how it will fit in with your lifestyle. This of course heavily depends on how you fit in to the previous section.
For your customers to get their prints, you will either have to ship them or have them come and pick them up. Where is your nearest post office? Can daily visits be easily incorporated into your schedule, or will that be a problem. Where will you get your packaging materials from? Will you buy them per order or in bulk? Many orders will vary in size and require different packaging. If you’d like to offer pickup to your customers, which is quite popular, is it easy for people to get to you?
Your hub will be rated on how well you communicate with your customers. In fact, its one of the four criteria on which you are reviewed on the completion of an order (more on this in the next post). Will you be able to quickly respond to customers and keep them informed on the progress? Will you also be able to find the time to discuss the print in the case of a difficult model?
Its important to know that running a popular hub will mean that you might find yourself with little time to print the things that you want to print. Sometimes it’s just too busy and if you print your own things then it will mean your orders will be late. You’ll also need to be comfortable with leaving your printer unattended. If this means that you need to set up a smoke detector next to your printer to make yourself feel better then so be it. The reality is that if your hub is getting a decent number of orders, you won’t be able to watch over it all the time. You may also need to print over night so noise might be an important factor.
The next step
If after reading through all of this you’re still keen on getting your hub up and running, head over to 3D Hubs and create an account. From there you can begin setting up your hub, or if you want to get a feel for the website maybe place an order with a nearby hub and see how it all works. My 3D Hubs guide part 2 will be up soon and will be all about how to set up your hub, so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested!