Digital Marketplace Platforms Could Offer New Opportunities for Manufacturers

As companies in many sectors tap into the digital on-demand economy, the manufacturing industry has yet to develop an industrial digital marketplace to connect buyers and sellers. Yet a new platform has the potential to revolutionize the industry by offering manufacturers the opportunity to buy and sell custom-made parts through an online portal.

In the past six months, the venture capital arms of GE and BMW have invested more than $22 million in Xometry, a digital platform that has been described by US News & World Report as the “Uber of manufacturing.” Xometry serves as a platform to connect industrial parts manufacturers and buyers in a system similar to Uber, Amazon and other digital platforms.

It allows buyers to upload their 3D models, specify the materials, features and components then receive instant feedback on pricing, lead times and the best manufacturing processes. Buyers can review manufacturer profiles and rankings, then make purchase decisions with the click of a mouse. Manufacturers, especially mid-market companies engaged in sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing and urethane casting, can also join the partner network to serve as a seller.

Randy Altschuler, co-founder and CEO of Xometry, says the platform is currently being used by more than 5,000 companies in automotive, aerospace, industrials and medical equipment manufacturing. Altschuler says it will soon aggressively hire more data scientists, software engineers and web developers to expand the platform. While there are many large buyers on the platform, including GE, BMW, the United States Army and NASA, Altschuler says the biggest opportunities on the supplier side will be for mid-market and small manufacturers and shops. And for these large companies, more sellers offers a larger network to more efficiently source the custom parts they need.

“Xometry serves as a platform to connect industrial parts manufacturers and buyers in a system similar to Uber, Amazon and other digital platforms.”

“We’re accelerating our efforts to provide additional features to our online platform, making it easier for engineers and procurement managers to conveniently order a wide range of parts delivered by our expanding network of manufacturers,” Altschuler said.

Altschuler estimates it to be a $70 billion market, and the fact that BMW and GE is investing in the platform is a notable development. As customers of the platform, both companies use it to streamline the often time-consuming and challenging process of ordering custom parts. Zack Barasz, partner at BMW I Ventures, invests in technologies that will impact the automotive industry and will join the company’s board of directors. “You have instant transparency into ‘what is this part going to cost me, and ‘how will changes in material and the shape of the part affect the cost’?” said.

Analysts say it’s innovative ideas such as these that have the potential to further strengthen American manufacturing. Brett Conner, professor at Youngstown State University and director of the Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Initiatives, said the U.S. is still stuck in a model of “industrial revolution-esque manufacturing” and that innovations through digital and 3D printing can change the entire industry. New platforms such as this could offer both new revenue streams and new avenues of parts sourcing for manufacturers.

Eric Schaeffer, senior managing director at Accenture, who leads Accenture’s Digital Industry X.0 program and said manufacturers need to transition more to an “as-a-service” business where they can be flexibly used as a service when needed. Schaeffer said industrial customers continually want “new and fluid service experiences” and that it will require companies to develop a “demand-driven approach that can anticipate and meet the fast and frequently-changing needs of customers in near real-time.”

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Craig Guillot
Craig Guillot is a business writer based in New Orleans, La. His work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, CNNMoney.com and CNBC.com. You can read more about his work at www.craigdguillot.com.

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