Stratasys founder Scott Crump offered the following commentary on Swedish company Teenage Engineering, which has started offering its customers 3D CAD files as blueprints for replacement parts so they can produce their own parts:

It’s the first company I’m aware of that has taken this step, so I see it as a significant milestone for the industry. It’s something I projected as a possibility over 15 years ago, so it’s exciting to see this development materialize.

Teenage Engineering is offering the 3D models at no charge on Shapeways. I wonder how soon it will be before others follow suit and offer CAD files for replacement parts? Like Teenage, some may offer free downloads and others will charge for them. As this new era comes, there will be lots of questions to answer.

Will customers be willing to pay for the CAD file, pick a service and then pay again to have the part made? Will the cost be comparable to what the manufacturer would offer to supply the part? Will there be a proliferation of services, like Shapeways, that are geared toward the consumer? Will manufacturers vet these services and provide recommended ones? Will manufacturers specify the required material for the part?

Teenage Engineering is ahead of the curve. We don’t have 3D printing services “around the corner” like we have copy shops yet, but I believe that is coming. For now Teenage’s customers will have Shapeways make and ship the part, or they will have to choose another service. Average consumers don’t yet have a 3D printer at home to make the part themselves.

But these are all minor challenges that won’t stop manufacturers from offering CAD files, nor consumers from demanding them. The trend toward more distributed and more personalized manufacturing is on its way. If carmakers had waited for a nationwide infrastructure of electric vehicle charging stations before they developed an electric car, the Volt, Leaf, and others would have never been created.

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