If you want to 3D print something who do you call? Step forward 3Dprintler, a startup that has made a search engine for locating 3D printing services in your area.

3Dprintler’s search engine, which launched last year, lets users upload a 3D file for printing, select the materials they want their file to be printed in, and get a list of quotes to compare. They can then order the print directly, with 3Dprintler monetizing by taking a cut of any sales its search engine generates.

But — and here’s the topical twist — the team has also created an integrated chatbot for accessing their platform that’s aimed at simplifying the process by providing a concierge service for ordering 3D prints. Their 3D print quote bot currently supports messaging platforms including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Telegram, Kik and Skype.

While early messaging platform chatbots can seem spammy and/or time wasting, 3Dprintler’s chatbot feels like a far more practical application of this sort of tech, given that 3D printing can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. So a bot being there to walk you through the different steps seems like it’s going to provide some useful reassurance.

The bot, which launched about a month ago, has already generated an uptick in orders, according to 3Dprintler co-founder Michael Golubev.

“We’ve seen over one hundred order already just in that period of time, which is I think like 56 per cent more conversion rate than we see from using the website. So we see that people actually enjoy using the bots way more, somehow it’s more natural than using the website,” he tells us. “Almost it becomes outdated to use a website.”

The team is running a pilot of their quote bot with a few companies, with the ultimate aim of creating what they dub a ‘factory as a service’ platform — aka a software as a service style business model with the sales pitch to businesses being that a search and order bot for 3D printing simplifies the order process to the point where it’s easier for businesses to pay to use a bot, rather than own a 3D printer themselves (and need to train staff how to use it).

“We’re more focused on prosumer users, so somebody who wants a professional service done,” says Golubev. “The consumer market is just not there yet, once we’re able to scan things it will be but for now it’s the Fortune 500 companies that hold the biggest potential for the growth.

“From talking to those companies the biggest pain that they have, they all have the same thing: they get the expensive printers because they hear about the hype, they invest $300,000 in the machine and then it just sits there idling because there has to be a special person trained to use it.”

3Dprintler processes the 3D files uploaded by users to get them ready for printing and can also fix problems with files. It sees the latter as another potential revenue stream down the line — talking up the potential for a future market powered by consumers scanning objects with their smartphone cameras and then chatting via messaging app to 3Dprintler’s bot to order their 3D prints.

“Chatbots is the solution we were looking for because we get access to millions of people, and… we’re betting that eventually every phone will have a 3D scanner built in it. It will be super easy to use… and once we have all those millions of people using it, adoption rate is going to skyrocket and you’re going to have all those billions of files that people want to create — 3D selfie, for example, is going to be a new craze.”

The startup has been working in the 3D print up space since 2013, initially minting money by selling drone parts for DJI phantom drones before too many copycat sellers flooded the market. They also made a customizer tool for 3D print files. And also previously set up an open source initiative for 3D printable hydroponics.

In their search for a sustainable business model in the space they’ve now settled on simplifying access to 3D printing services as the core problem to fix here — having had to go through similar steps themselves, over the years.

“We realized not every has access to a 3D printer,” says Golubev. “That’s how the 3Dprintler search engine was born. How do we tap into all the 3D printing services out there and allow a person to find the best price, based by location, based by quality, based by material?”

As well as seeking to tap into large, engaged user bases on messaging platforms with a chatbot interface, Golubev says they are also talking to 3D marketplaces, such as Thingiverse, with the hope of integrating their search and order service into those larger platforms too.

They do also have an API — launched back in January — to enable others, such as designers, to embed their search engine elsewhere.

“Everybody can tap into this API. Let’s say you’re a designer… and you have some files you want to sell — put our button on your website and this button will allow whoever is visiting your website to find the best printer, the best price. You as the designer get a cut, we get a cut, so we kind of split the revenue with you,” he notes.

At this point 3Dprintler has some 20,000 3D print service providers globally in their database, and have done test prints to verify the quality of the providers they are listing. Their search engine supports more than 60 file formats for 3D printing.

The team has also raised $750,000 in seed funding from an undisclosed European business angel.

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