Feb. 19, 2015 | By Simon

When it comes to the need for sharing 3D printable files (whether for free or for profit), it’s easy to list off sites that are focuses on simple products for the consumer: Thingiverse, Shapeways, MyMiniFactory, etc.  But what about businesses that rely less on toy figurine designs or jewelry, and more on usable products that they can use day-in and day-out such as disposable small parts and hardware?

Virginia-based 3D printing service Print-A-Part has been focusing on this area of the 3D printing market since last year and wants to be the go-to service for automotive repair shops, hobbyists, scientists and even soldier troops and astronauts who are using over 1 billion traditionally manufactured small parts daily.  

“Many state-of-art automotive and machine parts are made of plastic to save weight in the final assembly, and these shops are our target,” added Print-A-Part founder Bob Al in an interview with 3Ders.  

More recently, Al announced this week that Print-A-Part is the first company in history to successfully be listed as a “Retail Renderables” provider on the online e-commerce giant Amazon.  The move will make Print-A-Part’s STL files available for retail using Amazon’s sales platform.  

Bob Al

In total, the company will offer sets of bolts, screws, nuts, washers, and other industrial fasteners in ready-to-print .STL files on a flash drive or memory card.  While it would seem to make sense to just allow a digital download for the files, Amazon has not yet implemented their own digital download system for non-entertainment media service - however they are expected to be releasing the feature later this year.  Despite this, Print-A-Part will continue to offer the files in digital download form directly from their own website.  

According to futurist and geo-engineer Gare Harrison, the concept of “Retail Renderables” will be very common within the next ten years - and not just for simple screws and bolts.  Based on Harrisons predictions, consumers will also be able to purchase complete tools and dresses off of online commerce sites such as Amazon.  Print-A-Parts is hoping that their early adoption of the platform will help pioneer its future.  

However, just like how 3D printing reaches a wider scope of users than those who use Thingiverse and Shapeways, Retail Renderables will most certainly be used by those who need 3D printed parts for more industrial applications.  Similar to how we saw a 3D printed wrench sent up to space, the same concept will ring true for other industrial applications for users including those in the military and other industrial users who may not have the ability to store multiple parts or tools at any given time.  

In addition to being accepted by Amazon for Retail Renderables, Print-A-Part has also launched a 60-day Kickstarter campaign where they are hoping to raise awareness with some of their 3D printable files as rewards.   

Although it may seem too early to tell, the service seems to make sense.  For decades now, mechanical engineers and industrial designers have relied on extensive part catalogues such as McMaster-Carr to source screws, bolts, hex nuts and literally thousands of other parts for their designs.  Among one of the best features of McMaster-Carr has been in their supply of CAD models that allow the engineers and designers to use within their designs to ensure that these components work as intended.  Now, it appears that getting parts 3D printed for either prototyping or daily use will be that much easier.     



Posted in 3D Design


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JPC wrote at 2/20/2015 12:50:25 PM:

Inch crap bolts and nuts. Totally useless outside of the US.

craig wrote at 2/20/2015 12:27:02 PM:

Can you 3D print McMaster carr's files? Ah ha!

FBW wrote at 2/20/2015 8:58:25 AM:

$30 for a nut? A bit nuts if you ask me....

JJ wrote at 2/20/2015 1:25:39 AM:

I'm really unclear on the value proposition here. The parts they are talking about seem to be pretty bog-standard stuff (hex head bolts, for example), the CAD files for which are widely available. Not only do sellers like McMaster-Carr often provide CAD models of their parts as a free service, there are several major parts libraries (i.e. Traceparts) for CAD designers, complete with plug-ins so models can be grabbed directly from the CAD interface. The only possible value here seems to be that they made the STL files, but that's trivial for just about anyone who does 3D printing regularly. The fact that they apparently send these on a flash drive actually makes their model LESS convenient and valuable than their existing competition.

Anonymous wrote at 2/20/2015 1:22:12 AM:

FYI, McMaster provides CAD files for free on their website (eg: http://www.mcmaster.com/#90128a953/=vzei9o).

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