The Material Web 1.0 and Creative Capitalism

by Fred Abler

By now we all know that 3D Printing is Fab’ulous. People are 3D printing everything: jawbones, human blood vessels, medicines, concrete buildings, working semi-automatic rifles, cassette shaped MP3 players, and even entire museum collections.

Last week a University of Washington student even 3D printed a plastic boat. TreeHugger tells us this is significant because this one-person boat hull was 3D printed from reclaimed milk jugs (very hard to do BTW), and because it placed second in the Milk Carton Derby.

Fig 1 – 3D Printed boat hull from recycled HDPE Milk Jugs. The boat Hull was made by in the Washington Open Objects Fabricators club (or WOOF). Images courtesy of WOOF.


Yet undoubtedly more significant is something I call the Material Web – the global network that can materialize physical objects anytime, anyplace, on demand, and from nothing more than a 3D geometry file available for free on the Internet.

The Material Web makes the ‘printing and publishing’ of 3D objects (formerly known as the retail supply chain) largely obsolete. In its purest form – Objects On Demand – it also strips the entire retail value chain down to just consumables at the point-of-purchase.

HP has built a fortune selling printers below cost and selling ink for obscene prices. Will 3D printing work the same? Or will I be able to home-fab semi-automatic weapons using a $300 3D printer, and a spool of high-test nylon string borrowed from my weed whacker!? (probably)

One company that gets the Material Web is Stratasys, the industry leader in fused-deposition modeling – a technology invented by Scott Crump. A few years ago FormFonts and Stratasys explored the emerging consumer market for 3D printable geometry together.

Ultimately, Stratasys decided to stick to its fused-deposition plastic guns, continuing to provide additive manufacturing to Fortune 500 companies. Their objective is to become the ‘Kinkos’ for 3D printing, and Stratasys is quietly building additive manufacturing centers all over the world.

As for consumer products, it’s likely that Amazon will become the 3D printing powerhouse in the next few years. Jeff Bezos has shown an unusual ability to embrace disruptive change (e.g., The Kindle) and therefore Amazon will be among the first to embrace the Material Web.

Fig 3 – RapMan Ultimate 3D Printer sold for $1699 on

If I were an adviser to Jeff Bezos, I’d propose that Amazon strategically embrace the Maker Movement – with a complementary set of hardware and software services analogous to Amazon’s EC3 platform. (UML diagrams available upon request).

Imagine if we could design-make-and-sell our digital creations all through Amazon’s incomparable supply chain? And what if Amazon captured the Objects On Demand manufacturing sector in toto … almost from its very inception!

In Short: The Material Web threatens the basic pillars of modern capitalism (i.e. owning the means of production and distribution). It will disrupt retail sales and distribution with Objects On Demand. Two companies are well positioned to ‘capitalize’ on this disruption – making a new kind of ‘creative capitalism’.

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  • Washington Open Objects Fabricators Club – WOOF
  • University of Washington Students Race World’s first 3D Printed Boat –  Inhabitat
  • University of Washington students 3D Print Out Boat  –  Treehugger

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