Before 3D printing can revolutionize manufacturing, innovators like Sketchfab are developing parts of the ecosystem to make that happen.
3D printing holds the promise of democratizing manufacturing — disrupting how goods are made and brought to market. But even the technology’s most enthusiastic backers say the third industrial revolution will take years to fully arrive.
In the meantime, innovators such as Alban Denoyel are moving quickly to develop parts of the 3D ecosystem that will be necessary for desktop factories to really take off.
3D printing “needs one thing more than anything: content,” says Denoyel, co-founder and CEO of Sketchfab, an online platform where the 3D community — from artists and educators to professional designers — can share and publish content. His mission is bigger than just printing, developing the tools to capture everything in the world and the mind in 3D.
”3D capture is touching everything, since the world is 3D,” he says. In its ambitious bid to become the Youtube of 3D content, Sketchfab has added download functionality and partnered with Adobe to enable designers to publish their 3D models on Sketchfab.
“We want to be the place where you can find all this content, and the hub between people who make content and people who need it,” says Denoyel in an interview, in which the French transplant to New York also compares the strength and weaknesses of the U.S. and French startup scenes:
Sketchfab describes itself as sort of the Youtube for 3D content. How do you see the world of 3D content evolving, especially with the growing accessibility of 3D printing technology?
To me the most interesting trend right now is 3D capture. 3D printing is awesome, but is somewhat limited to only certain industries. Whereas 3D capture is touching everything, since the world is 3D. The evolution and progress around 3D capture are boosted by the 3D printing trend, of course, which needs one thing more than anything: content. We want to be the place where you can find all this content, and the hub between people who make content and people who need it.
You’ve said that 3D printing isn’t quite as easy as “plug and play” quite yet. What needs to happen before the technology can start to fulfill the promise of the third Industrial Revolution?
I think you need to dissociate consumer 3D printing from B2B applications. For consumer use, you need better resolution, more materials support, cheaper price, faster prints… It’s crazy to think that right now basically no consumer 3D printer can do color prints! Also most 3D files aren’t printable, so many improvements need to happen on the software side, for a more seamless workflow.
Sketchfab recently provided users with the ability to make their files available for download. Are you doing your part to bring 3D printing to the mainstream, and where else do you see opportunities for your business in this area?
Adding a download feature was an obvious move for us. Displaying 3D files is great, and answers many use cases, but having the file itself and being able to use for other applications like printing has a lot of value. One of our main value-added is that we focus on amazing 3D display: we support textures, lights, shadows, complex materials, etc., so your rendering can look very realistic.
As a result, a lot of users who wouldn’t host their 3D files on other platforms end up on Sketchfab. Take the example of someone like the British Museum — one of their first needs is to display their content well, and very few platforms let you do that. Once the content is displayed and distributed, you can think of other ways to consume it, like 3D printing or virtual reality.
Sketchfab’s recent partnership with Adobe enables people to use Photoshop to directly publish their 3D models to your platform. How are moves such as these helping to empower the 3D community and enable a more collaborative culture?
I think the key point here is that people today are looking for ease of use before everything else. You now have so many applications and options to do things, that only those with a great UI, UX and workflow can stay ahead of the curve. That’s why adding a seamless workflow from a tool like Photoshop to Sketchfab was super important for us. We want content creators to be able to focus on what they do well: creating content. And when it comes to sharing and publishing it, this has to be one click away.
After you relocated the company from Paris to New York, you stressed that you weren’t really leaving France — but moving to the U.S. Do you feel that the French startup scene gets a bad rap?
I think the French tech ecosystem is getting better and better. There are still a lot of things that need to happen: more and larger exists, more funds, etc. And also more ambition! But we have great talent and creativity, which are two key starting points. France is also suffering from bad press around taxes and administration, but to be honest, when you are a tech startup this doesn’t really apply.
What do you see as the main strengths of the U.S. versus the France startup ecosystem?
The two top strengths are the ecosystem and the mentality. The ecosystem means that all tech giants are here, you can easily find seed money, and there are plenty of accelerators and co-working spaces. The mentality, because in the U.S. people have this “winner takes all” mentality — they are all in. Instead of envying success, they believe it’s reachable. They have more of a hustle mentality, realizing that only what you make happen does happen.
(Top image: Video courtesy of Sketchfab)
Alban Denoyel is Co-founder and CEO of Sketchfab.