3D printing community and emerging practices of peer production
First Monday

3D printing community and emerging practices of peer production by Jarkko Moilanen and Tere Vaden



Abstract
Based on the results of a 2012 survey on people doing 3D printing, we present results on the demographics and self–identification of the community, as well as describing participants’ printing activity. Combining results from the survey with insights from research literature, we analyse emerging patterns and practices of 3D printing as a subdivision of a more general trend of physical peer production, and, even, of a revolution in manufacturing, as predicted by several theorists.

Contents

Background
The survey
Demographics and self–identification
3D printing: What, how and why
Bottlenecks in creating a commons and indications for the future
Discussion and conclusion

 


 

Background

3D printing as an activity has both been growing (see Figure 8, below) and receiving increased attention in the past few years. Viewed from a social perspective, the activity itself has several interconnecting roots. The hacker movement, open source software community and maker culture are just three of the most prominent socio–cultural backgrounds. While the interconnections between these three are rich and the communities overlap to a large extent, they can still be analytically separated and often the members themselves insist on the separate identities of the communities (see Troxler, 2010; Tocchetti, 2012; Maxigas, 2012; Moilanen, 2012). Therefore one of the purposes of the survey launched in 2012 was to gain insights into the self–identification and background of people doing 3D printing.

One of the reasons 3D printing has intrigued a growing group of theorists is that it can be seen as arguably the most promising phenomenon in a predicted and emerging revolution in manufacturing. Several economists and theorists of innovation have even surmised that a third industrial revolution is at hand (Bauwens, 2005; Benkler, 2006; Rifkin, 2011; see also Bauwens, 2012; McCue, 2012). In this context, 3D printing provides an example of a combination of, first, an organizational innovation, the open source–inspired distributed way of organising design and production, and second, a set of engineering innovations, the 3D printing machines themselves, that together provide a platform for rapid and distributed manufacturing.

Here we adopt Benkler and Nissenbaum’s (2006) description “commons–based peer production” to denote a type of production in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated, usually with the aid of the Internet, into large, meaningful projects mostly without traditional hierarchical organization or centralised decision–making. Commons–based production as “a socio–economic system of production that is emerging in the digitally networked environment” [1] is different from market–based and company–based production in that the resources used and the products produced are shared among the participants in the distributed network. Consequently, the resources form a commons, governed by the social and institutional arrangements of the participation (Ostrom, 2010; Bauwens, 2009). A subset of commons–based production is peer production in which participants are self–selected and decision–making is distributed. Several modes of 3D printing fit under the description, especially because the open source model is widely used in distributing printing and printer designs. Below, we will identify emerging patterns of 3D printing participation and some of the major bottlenecks in terms of creating a commons, as indicated by the survey.

 

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The survey

People engaged in 3D printing can be loosely grouped into the three categories in terms of technology adoption: developers, early adopters and end users. “End users” refers to people who print objects with 3D printers but are not involved in making development either on 3D printing software or hardware. This group contains also people who use 3D printing services. At the same time, these services also represent a kind of peer production since the models and products sold in Web shops are made by a large population of people who participate (at least mostly) voluntarily; they create the content. The second group, early adopters, consists of people who buy 3D printers and assemble and use them them with the help of the community, often in the process making contributions, software or hardware, to the communities. An example of community help is assembly instructions related to the Ultimaker 3D printer and the RepRap. Often the help provided goes beyond the assembly instructions and the community produces a lot of information in wikis. The information consists, for example, of test results with different kind of printing speeds [2], experiences of how different printing materials behave on printers [3] and about particular hardware modifications [4]. Finally, developers are people mainly concerned with the developing of 3D printing, either in terms of software or hardware. Of course, the above groups overlap and individuals move from one group to another over time.

The survey launched in May 2012 was directed to all three groups. Developers were approached through developing mailing lists and hackerspaces discussion list. End users were approached with the help of selected 3D printing services and twitter. Service providers Shapeways, Ponoko and Fabbaloo were asked to promote the survey and all three blogged and tweeted about it [5]. Early adopters were assumed to populate RepRap users mailing list and to follow 3D printing related twitter feeds and blogs. Using Twitter and getting publicity from 3D printing service providers, we expected to get some amount of so–called “false respondents”. However, our fear turned out to be false since not a single extravagant answer was found; none of the answers deviated from the most common ones to be obvious spam. In total, there were 358 respondents [6].

 

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Demographics and self–identification

The basic demographics is male–dominated, as one would expect in a technology–oriented community. The average age, 35 years, is somewhat higher than in (stereo)typical open source software communities (Mikkonen, et al., 2007; Ghosh, 2005), conforming well to the pattern where participants in open source hardware have been found to be somewhat older than software hackers (Malinen, et al., 2011). The level of education of respondents is high, with 56 percent having at least a bachelor level degree. Again, this agrees well with earlier results on open source hackers, although the numbers there have been even higher: Mikkonen, et al. (2007) found that 80 percent of respondents in four software communities (Debian, GNOME, Eclipse and MySQL) had a university degree (12.5 percent had Ph.D. degrees); in Malinen, et al. (2011) the number for a hardware community was 59 percent (four percent Ph.D.s).

As noted above, the cultural or ideological background of people doing 3D printing is varied. In order to gain some insight into this, the respondents were asked if they identify with the maker movement or with peer production. Likewise, we inquired about the membership in any type of do–it–yourself (DIY) community and previous involvement in open source projects.

 

Do you consider yourself a member of the so-called maker movement?
 
Figure 1: Do you consider yourself a member of the so–called maker movement?

 

 

Do you consider your 3D activities a part of so-called peer production?
 
Figure 2: Do you consider your 3D activities a part of so–called peer production?

 

The respondents clearly identify more with the maker movement than with peer production, Especially the high number of “No” answers to the peer production question may indicate an aversion to the “ideological” nature of the term “peer production” in comparison to the presumably more neutral “maker movement”.

 

Involvement in open source projects
 
Figure 3: Involvement in open source projects.

 

Fifty–five percent of the participants were involved at least in one open source project. Nearly 20 percent wanted to be involved in the future. Roughly 26 percent did not want to be involved in an open source project.

To us, these numbers suggest that 3D printing can be seen partly as a continuation of open source. Over half of respondents have previous experience of the open source modus operandi, and bring their knowledge to the printing community. The explicit open source affiliation of the RepRap community — RepRap being the most used printer model (see Figure 9, below) — is one obvious source of the connection.

On the other hand, there are other roots for the community and participants. For instance, the amount of 3D printing done for artistic purposes (the second most common usage, see below) is noteworthy. It would be interesting to know how many of the respondents have a background and motivation in a more hands–on attitude of doing concrete things rather than in “fiddling with software and computers”. The identification with the maker movement may in part indicate this tendency. As seen in Figure 6, below, the amount of participants with a DIY background seems to be on the rise.

In order to gain further insight into the correlation between participation in open source and DIY communities, we cross–tabulated the answers to the questions “Have you been involved in free/open source software projects? If so in how many?” and “Are you or have you been a member of a hackerspace, fab lab or a similar group?”

 

Table 1: Cross–tabulation between FLOSS involvement and DIY community membership.
 Member of DIY community? 
Have you been involved in free/open source software projects? If so in how many? No Yes
In 1 project 6.8% (11) 9.2% (9)
In 2 projects 8.7% (14) 11.2 %(11)
In 3 projects 10.6% (17) 12.2% (12)
In 4 projects 0% (0) 6.1% (6)
In 5 projects or more 15.5% (25) 29.6% (29)
No, I haven’t but would like to be in future 21.1% (34) 12.2% (12)
No, I haven’t 31.1% (50) 11.2% (11)

 

 

Not members of DIY, participation in open source
 
Figure 4: Not members of DIY, participation in open source.

 

 

Members of DIY, participation in open source
 
Figure 5: Members of DIY, participation in open source.

 

The cross–tabulation suggests that there is no systematic difference between people who are or are not members of any DIY community, but participate in open source projects. Both participate in open source about as eagerly. However, there is a difference when the comparison is based on “not participating in open source”. Those who are members of some DIY community, represent smaller portion. The percentage of “In five projects or more” supports that conclusion, since nearly a third of DIY members are involved in five or more open source projects.

Moreover, we wanted to see how the self–identification with the maker movement and peer production correlate with 3D printing activities.

 

DIY community membership (no/yes) and experience (years) in 3D printing
 
Figure 6: DIY community membership (no/yes) and experience (years) in 3D printing.

 

 

Peer production membership (no/yes) and experience (years) in 3D printing
 
Figure 7: Peer production membership (no/yes) and experience (years) in 3D printing.

 

Both the identification with the maker movement and peer production are increasing over the years, identification with the maker movement more markedly. Historically, the data is too thin to make any claims of the respective influence of the movements, not to speak of the influence of their perceived ideologies.

 

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3D printing: What, how and why

Survey participants were asked when they used 3D printer/printing services for the first time. Predefined options (years) were listed in a dropdown menu. The amount of 3D printers/printing started rising around 2005–2006 and has been rising ever since, as indicated in Figure 8, below. The growth can be partly explained with the rise of RepRap. The first RepRap, “Darwin”, was finished spring 2007 [7]. The numbers for year 2012 seem to be dropping, but that is an artifice created by the polling schedule. The survey was conducted in May and therefore the amount for 2012 is lower than for 2011.

 

Which year did you use 3D printing/printer the first time?
 
Figure 8: Which year did you use 3D printing/printer the first time?

 

Participants were asked “For what usage do you use 3D printing?” and given 10 predefined options together with a tick box for “other”. Predefined options were: Spare parts to devices; Covers and such for devices; Artistic items; Visual aids; Presentation models (including architectural models); Functional models; Used for pattern/in molds; For research/educational purposes; Direct part production (custom, short run, series production); and, Furniture and household decoration. The amount of selected items was not restricted.

According to the results, the five most common usages for 3D printed items are:

  1. Functional models (144);
  2. Artistic items (140);
  3. Spare parts to devices (133);
  4. For research/educational purposes (128); and,
  5. Direct part production (113 times).

If a participant selected “other”, it was instructed that a short description would be provided. Some of the participants (n=42) selected “other”, and gave descriptions containing items and usages such as toys, for fun, (custom) jewelry, repraps (replicating printer), prototyping, reselling, gaming miniatures, tools and medical devices.

Participants were asked “Which printers (which manufacturer) have you used?” and again they were given a predefined option set. Options contained 20 different manufacturers. Three options (Arcam, Blue Printer and Solidoodle) were not chosen at all and have been left out of the figures, below. A few manufacturers were selected only by a few participants (one–six times). Such companies were: Botmill, ExOne, Fortus, Makibot, Printrbot, Solidscape and Envision Tec. Those were also left out of Figure 9.

 

Which printers (which manufacturer) have you used?
 
Figure 9: Which printers (which manufacturer) have you used?

 

RepRap was the most common printer among the participants. RepRap is also the first printer (of the listed “new wave” printers) that was available (since 2007). The relatively low amount of Makerbots can partly be explained with long market entry time, as the Makerbot has been around since early 2009. Some of the printers have just entered or are entering the markets.

3D printing services

The participants were asked: “Which of the 3D printing services have you used?” Again, the question contained predefined options: 3D Creation Lab; 3dprintuk; 3DProParts; Cubify Cloud Print; i.Materialise; Impression–3D; Kraftwurx.com; Ponoko; RedEye; Sculpteo; Shapeways; Solid Concepts; None; and, Other. If participants selected “other”, they were instructed that description would be provided.

 

Which of the 3D printing services have you used?
 
Figure 10: Which of the 3D printing services have you used?

 

Results suggest that among the participants who have used 3D printing services, Shapeways has taken a major share of customers. Ponoko was second most popular and i.Materialise third. It is notable, however, that a substantial amount of the respondents has not used any 3D printing service.

Several of the available services were not selected at all or only a few times. This result raises interesting questions: Who are those who selected “none” and why is their amount so large? Are they developers and not interested in or in need of printing services? To find some indications for answers, a cross–tabulation was created between this question and whether the respondent’s work was related to 3D printing or rapid manufacturing or not.

 

Table 2: Cross–tabulation between work relevance and printing service usage.
Is your work related to 3D printing or rapid manufacturing? Has used printing services Has NOT used printing services
No 47.2% (67) 58.7% (71)
Yes 27.5% (39) 20.7% (25)
Yes, but only partly 25.4% (36) 20.7% (25)

 

Those that do not work with 3D printing or rapid manufacturing seem to use 3D printing services slightly more often than 3D printing professionals. The situation is leveled if the two last lines are calculated together.

The same kind of cross–tabulation was created between this question and whether the respondent considered herself/himself to be a developer or end user.

 

Table 3: Cross–tabulation between role in 3D printing development and printing service usage.
Your involvement in 3D printing. Do you consider yourself: Has used printing services Has NOT used printing services
more like ‘end user’ of 3D printing 64.6% (84) 22.7% (25)
more like developer of 3D printing solutions (not getting paid though) 21.5% (28) 64.5% (71)
more like paid developer of 3D printing solutions 13.8% (18) 12.7% (14)

 

The cross–tabulation indicates that 3D printing solution developers who do not get paid, are part of the population who are not keen to use 3D printing services.

Why use printing services? The relatively high amount of respondents saying that the reason for using printing services is “to test how the services work” (see Figure 11, below) indicates that the services are still in their early days. The “ecosystem” is, for this part, not yet mature. On the other hand, a large group of respondents use the services for “professional quality printing”, thus confirming a demand for the services. Interestingly, publishing developed apps gets predominantly a “disagree” (as does downloading apps) — this may be another indication of the young age of the 3D printing ecosystem.

 

Reason to use 3D printing services
 
Figure 11: Reason to use 3D printing services.

 

 

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Bottlenecks in creating a commons and indications for the future

On the basis of a wide review of literature on the sustainability of commons (both in terms of natural resources and in terms of software), Schweik [8] has presented a tri–partite division of variables influencing a developer’s commitment to a project and, consequently, the sustainability of the project and the viability of the commons it creates and is based on. The three groups are the 1) technological (including factors like task granularity and modularity, software requirements, versioning system and bug tracking); 2) community (including factors like participant involvement, leadership, social capital, financing, marketing, group homogeneity); and, 3) institutional (operational, collective choice and constitutional level rules) attributes of the project.

The survey participants were asked to name a “most wanted feature” for the future of 3D printing and also to identify bottlenecks. On the basis of the answers, it seems that there are problems on the technological and community levels mentioned by Schweik, while the institutional level was not mentioned. This is no big surprise, since 3D printing is a field evolving fast, and both the technology and the modes of operation are in flux.

Moreover, the physical nature of 3D printing brings in aspects absent from open source in terms of software. As presented by Malinen, et al. (2011), when peer production is intended to result in a physical artefact, there is more friction in the development cycle compared to open source software production: more time and resources are needed, copies are not perfect, bugs are potentially “deep” and debugging cannot be speeded up at will, and so on. Given identical files and equipment, a skilled and experienced user of 3D printing technology will tend to get better results, i.e., higher quality prints, than a beginner. Typically, the digital designs but not the physical end products are pooled to a commons. The friction and the absence of a commons for the physical end products are the two factors most clearly separating 3D printing from the models of commons–based peer production in terms of software.

Most wanted feature

Participants were asked “What is the most wanted feature you are waiting for to develop further or to emerge?” and given predefined list of options: Multicolored printing; Metal material printing; Glass material printing; Speed; Object quality; Ease of use; Ethernet connected printers; Better printer integration to CAD (or other similar) modeling software; Cheaper printer price; Cheaper material prices; and, Other.

Of the given options the most prevalent were:

  1. Object quality (166)
  2. Speed (119)
  3. Cheaper material prices (115)
  4. Metal material printing (108)
  5. Cheaper printer price (106)

Comments (n=34) given in option “other” contained several other features such as: multi–material printing; value added services (painting/assembly); ceramic & resin printing; extruder that takes plastic pellets; a broad network supporting the needs of makers and fabbers; feedback loop for self–calibration for improved quality; mixed material printing; and, bioprinter developments and better shipping (most likely related to printing services).

As mentioned above, unlike in commons–based peer production of software, copies in physical 3D printing are not perfect. The consequences are clearly seen in the answers regarding the “most wanted” feature: all of the items in the top five relate to the physical aspect of the process. This physical friction (to be included in group 1) of technological attributes in Schweik’s classification) also works against the creation of a knowledge commons. However, it can partially be alleviated through information sharing on discussion forums, IRC channels and so on.

Bottlenecks

Survey participants were asked what they see as the bottlenecks in development and in general in 3D printing: “What, in your opinion, is the greatest bottleneck for the development in 3D technology right now? — printers — materials — designs — social co–operation — Internet infrastructure — other infrastructure”. Answers were given as free text. Answers were classified to groups by hand. The number of answers was 221, from which a wide range of topics was found. The seven topics discussed below were most common.

Materials and quality

Current low–cost printers use different kinds of plastics as material. For some of the participants that is clearly not enough. Above all, the ability to use different metals for printing is most wanted. One of the participants crystallized this item in one sentence: “Only plastic is a drag, we need metal printers”. Also the quality of plastic prints was criticized “3D printers presently make stuff that looks like the cheapest crap and it is thus not very interesting”. Open source attempts to add metal to the list of materials is according to one respondent already there: “MetalicaRap team! (a electron–beam powder metal printer, in the spirit of the reprap)”.

Great for hackers, not so much for consumers

Usability and ease of use, reliability, lack of “Plug and Play” printers and ease of construction — these terms and concepts kept on coming up in the answers. Printers should be more easy to assemble, more user–friendly and reliable. The learning curve is felt to be too steep or as one survey participant puts it: “The level of knowledge and understanding needed about print quality vs print speed, temperature control of extruder and print bed, is quite an obstacle to new comers and does represent a bottleneck to take–up of 3D printing by people without an appetite or aptitude for such aspects.” The steep learning curve is partly to blame for the lack of instant gratification. The comments do not relate just to printers, but rather to the whole printing process, which apparently needs to be (or at least needs to be felt) more simple. The solution might be usability related hardware and software improvements.

Software

As noted above, respondents experience hardware hard to use and learn. The same seems to apply to software as well. According to one respondent: “easy to use and open source 3d design software/tools and high/steep learning curve are a definite barrier to entry that requires a lot of research and/or mentoring/hand holding to overcome. Learning curve for 3d modeling for people unskilled in that area, yet still want to design and fabricate items via 3d printing.” Some of the respondents saw a big difference in usability between commercial and open source modeling software: “Open source CAD software that is as powerful and easy to use as the commercial varieties”. The biggest problems with (open source) CAD software is according to one survey participant: “Non–intuitive nature of 3D modeling/CAD tools due to chronically poor user interface design, lack of application–specific design metaphors, and lack of procedural modeling features.”

The lack of access to appropriate models was also seen as bottleneck. The Web is teeming with 3D models, but not all are printable, at least not with all (commonly) used low–cost printers. The software toolchain was also seen as too complicated. Some of the respondents gave examples of toolchain needed to do 3D printing: “I use a combination of SolidWorks, Sketchup, Meshlab, Blender, NetFabb, ReplicatorG, and Skeinforge. That is too many pieces of software” and “the workflow going from computer model to physical print is very convoluted, involving lots of different pieces of software.”

Public awareness

The industry is still seen as a niche, even though it is less and less so every day. A lot of articles have been written about 3D printing and the promise it holds. But has the message been correct? According to one participant the viewpoint could be different: “I think awareness of 3D printing among the general public ... particularly awareness of the cost and availability at the low end, rather than the general ‘look at the future’ articles”.

Lack of social co–operation

Lack of social co–operation was seen as bottleneck. Some of the respondents saw embodiment of poor social co–operation in lack of or insufficient documentation, lack of organization (in the RepRap community), lack of quality control and lack of test plans. One respondent even said that “there’s an arrogance factor in the community that needs overcoming.” Fragmentation or diversity of solutions and tools was also mentioned by one respondent.

When it comes to fragmentation, it must be remembered that open source normally fosters competition between solutions and that competition (including the possibility and actuality of forking) is considered a sign of a healthy community. Some attempts to increase social co–operation are being made [9].

Patents

Protection of innovation as patents was raised as an obstacle by a few participants. The protection of intellectual rights has negative effect on open source driven development. One respondent formulated this problem as “major patents hold by few 3D printing companies (Open Source 3D Printing companies cannot grow due to patent risks, note for instance Canonical or Red Hat in SW business)”. However, it was not specified what the patents are or which area of development is held back because of patents.

Costs

Cost of printers and materials are too high for consumers. “We need lower prices to democratize 3D printing (and compete with mass manufacture) ... We need a 3d printer you can buy at Target for $200, with easy to use re–fills”. Low–cost 3D printers should have “better range of material to print with and printers also should be able to print with multiple materials”. One of the respondents noted that there are “still not enough companies and not enough competition on the market.” That might be one reason for situations where it is: “impossible to buy resources/spare parts in local shops”.

In sum, the first three mentioned bottlenecks — materials and quality, usability, software (also the issue of costs, lower on the list) — are, again, related to the physical nature of 3D printing, and, consequently belong in Schweik’s group 1. The next two — lack of public awareness and social co–operation — clearly belong in group 2, i.e., community attributes. Interestingly, issues of the third group, institutional attributes, were not high on the list of concerns. This may indicate that 3D printing as a form of peer production is still in the early days where the institutional level practices and models are being formed and are not yet in the focus of attention.

The influence of the physical aspects of 3D printing on commons–based peer production

It seems that in terms of creating and upholding a commons, the friction introduced by the physical nature of 3D printing does not fundamentally change the mode of operation compared to open source software. The physicality of the production makes things slower and more expensive, but the commitment to open sharing of the designs, improvements on printers and knowledge functions in largely similar fashion. However, the fact that the end results, the printed artefacts themselves, are not pooled into a commons, is a possible game changer. At least for the moment, in order to get good quality prints in a timely fashion, many participants use 3D printing services. In the case of software, people also resort to third–party providers of open source code, such as the Linux operating system, but there the reason is not the quality of the product, but rather additional services. Therefore the prevalence of the use of 3D printing services can be seen as an indication of the way in which the physical nature of 3D printing effects the creation of a commons. It is possible that the gap in quality between the service providers and widely available desktop 3D printers will diminish in the future, so that the role of the printing services will change, but it is also possible that the gap will remain, as both progress. This will be one of the interesting developments to follow, in the future.

 

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Discussion and conclusion

In the survey, the average member of the 3D printing/manufacturing community member is an over 30–years–old male, living in Europe (50.3 percent) or North America (37.7 percent) and has a college degree (56 percent) or at least some college studies.

“Intrinsic” enjoyment (“for fun”) and direct practical benefit (“scratch an itch”) are the two biggest drivers of open source hackers. According to the survey, there is no one predominant “itch to scratch”, rather what we have is a wide variety of purposes and uses. As a whole, the community has a strong open source component (and the basic demographics correspond closely with the demographics of open source communities in previous studies), and many of the participants identify with both the maker movement and peer production. A typical member of the ecosystem identifies himself more strongly with the maker movement than with peer production. Nearly half of the respondents are not (or have not been) members of any DIY community such as hackerspace, makerspace, or diybio.

Most notably, the use of 3D printers is rapidly growing since 2005. The growth and the corresponding “unsettled” or “early days” nature of the community is clearly visible in the bottlenecks and desired future developments identified by the participants. The fast evolving landscape provides a fertile ground for both social and technological improvements.

Immature “pre–ecosystem”

The buzzword “ecosystem” has been overused during the past few years. However, it is one possible concept to use in order to catch the multitude of 3D printing participants — hardware providers, software developers, volunteer community, service providers and end users — with one word.

The 3D manufacturing ecosystem is still immature in nature, as can be seen from the results in several ways. Firstly, some of the participants see lack of organisation (especially in RepRap) as a bottleneck. As argued, e.g., by Schweik (2013), lack of organisation is not just lack of bureaucracy. It causes several other unwanted results such as lack of proper documentation, lack of quality control and lack of test plans. In other words, implementing additional social co–operation models could solve some of the issues and thereby increase the maturity of the ecosystem. Secondly, 3D manufacturing processes are still too complicated (require too many pieces of at least somewhat separate software). Thirdly, usability and reliability are poor. This is visible in open source CAD/CAM software, which are lagging behind in features and usability compared to commercial software and in the printers themselves, which should be more easily assembled, used and more reliable.

Simple ecosystem model

Based on the survey and observation of the community, a preliminary ecosystem model can be sketched, as seen in Figure 12. The ecosystem parts are: end users, early adopters, developer community, hardware vendors and service providers.

 

3D printing ecosystem
 
Figure 12: 3D printing ecosystem.

 

This figure should be understood as a continuous circle. The developer community innovates and creates new features. Hardware vendors adapt some of the innovations to products and ship printers to early adopters. The early adopters’ role is to test and verify/validate new improvements and features. Depending on the case, after the early adopters have tested new features, either service providers or/and end users take new models into use. They (and the other groups in the circle) in turn provide feedback to the developer community. The feedback is given for example on discussion forums as questions and comments. The iteration continues in cycles.

As stated above, the model is very crude. Reality is more complicated: for example feedback goes back and forth and discussions among different ecosystem parts occurs between all parties not just end users and developers. Moreover, individual participants and institutions (companies, projects, communities) regularly belong to several parts at the same time.

Developers and early adapters

The most common 3D printer is RepRap. Around 55 percent of the community is involved in open source projects and nearly 20 percent wants to be involved in an open source project. Even though the amount of female participants was low (n=24), it seems that men are more prone to open source development than women. The percentage of females in the group “end users” was a slightly larger than the percentage for males. Again, these results cannot provide any hard evidence of the gender distribution, and need to be developed in following studies.

 

Table 4: Gender differences: Developer or end user.
Developer or end user? Female Male Combined
more like ‘end user’ of 3D printing 57.9% 44.5% 45.6%
more like developer of 3D printing solutions (not getting paid though) 26.3% 42.3% 41%
more like paid developer of 3D printing solutions 15.8% 13.2% 13.4%

 

Service providers

Shapeways seems to have taken a major share of the markets — 48 percent of those who have used printing services have used Shapeways. Ponoko and iMaterialise share a similar market size (ca. 15 percent). It must be noted that a large amount of respondents (42 percent) have not yet used any printing services.

Manufacturing in motion?

It is clear that the ecosystem is just forming, so that the promises of a third industrial revolution are not being realised yet. The clearly identified bottlenecks with regard to usability, object quality, price and co–ordination of collaboration likewise speak of a number of elementary hurdles on the way of the revolution. On the other hand, the wide variety of uses for 3D printing and the rapid growth of the community point to a strong potential. The theorists mentioned in the introduction have also been right in emphasising the role of the open source development model, as adapted to physical production, in facilitating the development of 3D printing/manufacturing. Interestingly, the physical characteristics of 3D printing — end results not in a commons, the level of skill and experience evident in end product — may, in time, produce modes of commons–based peer production different from open source software development. End of article

 

About the authors

Jarkko Moilanen is the founder of Statistical Studies of Peer Production, a P2P communities focused open platform. He is finishing his Ph.D. about “Peer production economy — Revolution in design, development and manufacturing” in the University of Tampere, Finland. Jarkko’s sustained statistical survey–based research on 3D printing and fabbing communities has been cited in several publications and has inspired the P2P community.

Tere Vadén works as a professor in the Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. He has published published on digital media, e–learning and open source communities in various international forums. His latest book is Wikiworld (co–authored with Juha Suoranta, Pluto Press, London 2010).
Web: http://nuvatsia.terevaden.net
E–mail: tere [dot] vaden [at] aalto [dot] fi

 

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to all the respondents of the survey as well as to the P2P Foundation for supporting the site Statistical Studies of Peer Production on which the survey was hosted. We would also like to thank Shapeways, Ponoko and Fabbaloo for helping us in reaching the respondents.

 

Notes

1. Benkler and Nissenbaum, 2006, p. 394.

2. http://.unige.ch/en/Netfabb_engine_for_RepRap, accessed 11 October 2012.

3. http://forums.reprap.org/read.php?184,127126, accessed 11 October 2012, and http://richrap.blogspot.fr/2011/06/multicolour-3d-prints-and-3mm-filament.html, accessed 11 October 2012..

4. http://hacknmod.com/hack/massive-reprap-diy-3d-printer/, accessed 11 October 2012; http://hydraraptor.blogspot.fi/2011/12/mendel90.html, accessed 11 October 2012.

5. Shapeways — http://www.shapeways.com/blog/archives/1344-Have-Your-Say-in-a-3D-Printing-Community-Survey.html, accessed 11 October 2012; Ponoko — http://blog.ponoko.com/2012/05/03/3d-printing-community-survey/, accessed 11 October 2012; Fabbaloo — http://fabbaloo.com/blog/2012/5/10/3d-printing-community-survey.html, accessed 11 October 2012.

6. The data of the survey are available at http://surveys.peerproduction.net/open-data/longitudinal-survey-data/#3d-manufacturing-community-surveys, accessed 11 October 2012.

7. “RepRap history,” at http://reprap.org/wiki/RepRap_history, accessed 11 October 2012.

8. Schweik, 2013, p. 14.

9. One of those is the “3D printing Network” which is a Free Software Foundation (Europe) supported project; see http://wiki.fsfe.org/3d-printing, accessed 11 October 2012.

 

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Editorial history

Received 13 October 2012; revised 2 July 2013; accepted 22 July 2013.


Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial–ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

3D printing community and emerging practices of peer production
by Jarkko Moilanen and Tere Vadén.
First Monday, Volume 18, Number 8 - 5 August 2013
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4271/3738
doi:10.5210/fm.v18i8.4271





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