Signup for our free newsletter:

eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) Invests in 3D Printing

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted July 19, 2013

3D printing has seen a rise in its profile of late. Recently, Amazon decided to get in on it by offering a 3D printing section on its website. Now it’s eBay’s turn, apparently. Gizmag indicates that eBay, in collaboration with various 3D printing specialists, has come out with an app for Apple’s iOS platform which will allow users to customize iPhone cases, jewelry, and other small products.

The app is called Exact, and you won’t really be able to engrave products. Mostly, the choices are fairly basic—choosing between plastic, metal, or wood for the base material, for example. The companies eBay is tying up with include Sculpteo, MakerBot, and Hot Pop Factory, and the cases will cost about $9, which isn’t all that bad. You can expect your custom cases to arrive in anything from a week to two weeks.

However, that’s a product on the lower end of projected offerings. A custom metal ring could cost you as much as $350, as TechCrunch reports. It’s also worth noting that eBay’s push into 3D printing coincides with what appears to be a general movement toward expanding into that area.

I mentioned Amazon’s offering of its 3D printing store, which happened back in June. But Staples also decided to move into 3D printing, with a decision announced back in May that it would begin selling 3D printers in-store. This is pretty good news for would-be consumers of 3D-printed products, who (for now) continue to remain limited to shopping sites like Etsy or Shapeways. Failing that, they have to resort to maker marketplaces that cater more specifically to the 3D printing crowd, like Custommade, Makeably, and the like.

That’s an area also worth thinking about, since Shapeways just recently pulled together $30 million in Series C funding back in April. Shapeways is noted as having been instrumental in pushing the concept of 3D printing to a broader demographic, and the ongoing shift could mean widespread acceptance of 3D-printed products on the market.

Lack of information about 3D printing, but big possibilities

That’s actually the biggest problem with 3D printing today. It’s just such a niche idea that most people come across it, find it “pretty interesting,” but then move on. It just doesn’t seem to have much of a use-value. But if you think about some of the more fringe news stories that we’ve read over the years, you should know that 3D printing holds tremendous promise. In the recent past, a big fuss was raised when it was discovered that it’s possible to build a very accurate blueprint for a gun—and to actually print it out.

Obviously, the whole issue raised a tremendous stink because of its ramifications with respect to licensing and gun-control issues. In more non-controversial news, medical researchers have been experimenting for quite some time now with “printing” out anatomically-correct prostheses.

This could truly revolutionize the surgical sector, because the implications of organs ready to print whenever you want them is just huge. Recipients of organ-transplants or prosthetics often have to endure long wait-times, either because a suitable organ donor is hard to find, or because the prostheses take a long time to manufacture. Imagine the potentials inherent in simply taking the patient’s required measurements and printing off their required body part out of suitably implantable material. That’s a whole other world compared to customized iPhone cases and other trinkets, but they share the same fundamental concept. That’s why 3D printing is a major area that you should be reading more about.

President Obama appears to have recognized the potential, somewhat. Back in February, he asked that Congress pledge support for a $1 billion plan that would support research and development in 3D printing in a major way. Not just that, but other companies like Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE), General Electric (NYSE: GE) and others have also gotten involved in 3D printing in a systematic way.

Nike’s been using it to develop a new kind of cleat for a running shoe model, while GE has been implementing 3D printing in its research and development of aircraft components. D-Shape is an exceptionally ambitious company that’s thinking of using 3D printing to print—get this—an entire house.

The basic concept is workable, but whether that actually becomes a reality is a whole other issue. Still, the sheer diversity of possible applications for 3D printing should be enough to get you going.