Shapeways and the Factory of the Future
Kyle.Maxey posted on November 07, 2012 |

For most of us, assessing a product’s success is a matter of balancing the cost of production against the amount of units that can be shipped at a certain price. But in the near future, that paradigm might disappear completely.

Yesterday, I interviewed Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways, and our conversation opened my eyes to a new future for design and manufacturing.

If you’re not already familiar with Shapeways, you should be.  Shapeways is the world’s largest 3D printing marketplace and community. With manufacturing facilities in New York City, Long Island City and Eindhoven, Shapeways has created an environment where anyone can buy and sell products that they are passionate about.

By uploading your 3D model to Shapeways’ marketplace you enter a world where people are taking bits (their 3D models) and turning them into real, tangible products through 3D printing.

Engineers who have experience with 3D printing sometimes question how “finished” these products actually are.  To that I can only say, take a look at Peter’s iPhone case.

Peter's Iphone Case Created by noesis

That doesn’t look like your run-of-the-mill prototype. The accuracy of the print makes it indistinguishable from its parent model.  As for strength, well, Peter’s multiple accidents have proven that the case can hold up to nearly any abuse.

The take home here is that whether you’re buying a product from Shapeways or you’re placing a product in its marketplace, you can rest assured that the object you’re creating is as finished a product as you would get using any other method of manufacturing.

While the ability to turn an idea into a product made from nearly any material (seriously, look at their list of materials) is amazing in and of itself, the most remarkable revelation I gathered from my conversation with Peter came at the end of our talk.

I asked Peter “What advice would you give to designers looking to create a successful product?”  Instead of giving me some boilerplate response he stepped back and really encapsulated what the 3D printing revolution is all about…pardon my paraphrasing.

Successful products can’t be defined the same way they have been in the past. If you make something that you’re passionate about, the act of making it and sharing it makes it a success. 3D printing gives us all the ability to explore and create products because of the on-demand nature of the technology.

That means that we can create products that not only solve today’s problems, but we can also look forward and make the tools to overcome tomorrow’s challenges.

One of Shapeways’ goals is to “democratize” the design and manufacturing process.  In my mind they’re achieving that goal, and I think we’re all better off for it.

"Mayor Bloomberg Opens New Manufacturing Facility for Shapeways"
Photo Credited to Edward Reed

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