Crowdsourcing and the shared economy are taking care of all kinds of needs lately, as shown by the growth of Task Rabbit,
Getaround and AirBnB. Inevitably, the same types of sites were bound to pop up for 3D printing.
CowFab is the latest to give it a try, with a slightly different approach than the competition. Buyers can post their designs and have printers bid on the job. Once an object is printed, the buyer can pick it up or have it shipped to them. Buyers can also browse a list of printers and contact them with jobs.
So far, Makexyz is the most popular one of these sites. You browse rates and local people offering the services of their 3D printer, submit your design, and then wait to see if the printer owner accepts your request. Once your print is done you stop by and pick it up.
A week after launch, CowFab hasn’t exactly been inundated with people posting designs. As of Friday afternoon, there was only one posted, and it was submitted by the CowFab staff. Co-founder Chris Atkeson said they’ve hired a designer to improve the site and will release an API later this summer that makes it easier to use, but for now it looks like Makexyz will easily remain the dominant site. A quick search of local printers yielded 15 in San Francisco and many more in the greater Bay Area.
Crowdsourcing 3D print jobs makes a lot of sense. Hobbyists who buy desktop 3D printers invest thousands of dollars and then leave the machine idle most of the time. Those looking to bring in some money or experiment with building different designs can benefit from taking on print jobs. It also offers a local alternative to sites like Shapeways, perhaps getting buyers their order faster as well. More sites are sure to pop up in the future, even if CowFab never takes off.