July 16, 2013, 9:57 AM

eBay tests the 3-D printing waters with a mobile app

Consumers can buy custom-printed products, from rings to iPhone cases, from three printers.

Lead Photo

The eBay Exact mobile app can be used to personalize and purchase 20 3-D printed products, including an iPhone case, here personalized with the name Megan.

3-D printing is starting to get a lot of attention—it could revolutionize the way some products are manufactured, stored and sold, and what’s more, personalized. 3-D printing creates a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model. Prints are created through a process where successive layers of material—be it plastic, metal or wood pulp—are laid on top of each other in a structured way from bottom to top. The end result is the object.

Today, eBay Inc. is getting its feet wet in 3-D printing with a new mobile commerce app called eBay Exact. The iPhone app is a test. Consumers can use it to buy customizable merchandise from three 3-D printing companies.

Customers can choose from roughly 20 items, ranging from technology accessories to jewelry, from Brooklyn-based MakerBot, the French company Sculpteo, and the Canadian firm Hot Pop Factory. Items cost anywhere from $9 for a plastic iPhone case to $350 for a metal ring, and are shipped directly from each 3-D printer’s facilities.

“Shoppers today not only want to buy items anytime/anywhere through mobile devices, but they also want to be able to personalize their purchases,” says Steve Yankovich,  vice president of innovation and new ventures at eBay. “EBay Exact brings these two desires into one shopping experience.”

App users select a product, select any personalization (see picture), pay with PayPal, and receive the item within seven to 14 business days. Consumers who choose to buy from Sculpteo can use a tool that provides a 360-degree preview image of the item they want to customize and buy.

The consumer market for 3-D printing could become quite large because of the convenience and customization the technology offers, says Terry Wohlers, principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in 3-D printing technology.

“Ordering products on-demand online is a great system for retailers and consumers—and not just products, but personalized products,” Wohlers says. “Such products have been difficult or cost-prohibitive to offer, but 3-D printing changes that. It’s so easy to put initials on a ring or a face on a bobblehead using 3-D printing.”

To see the latest in 3-D printing technology for consumers, Wohlers suggests looking at the Autodesk 123D Catch mobile app from design software maker Autodesk Inc. Consumers can use the app to capture a multitude of images of an object, and then submit those images to Autodesk, which 3-D prints a replica of the object for a fee.

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