Shapeways Debuts Otto Software as a Service

Software as a service has been a transformative force in many industries, and now Shapeways hopes to bring its power to 3D printing and manufacturing.

One of the most overarching trends in the technology sector over the past decade has been the rise of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model. Cloud computing has made it possible for entire industries to be remade through subscription-based software programs that can be accessed on demand in a web-based format. Office management, messaging apps, payroll processing platforms, CAD programs and human resource management and customer relationship management software applications have all been rolled out by leaders like Salesforce, Microsoft, Autodesk, Paycom and Slack and have forever changed the way we work and get things done on a daily basis.

“Software eats the world,” is a popular saying, and it is certainly true. Software continues to change just about everything and there are very few things left in the world not powered by software in some form. SaaS platforms are expected to generate over $120 billion revenue in 2021 and the technology’s growth shows no signs of slowing.

SaaS providers have helped to fuel the growth of new and innovative technologies and are unlocking new avenues for growth across every industry. Manufacturing is one such industry, where additive manufacturing and 3D printing become more popular with each passing year. Manufacturers are rapidly coming around to the idea of adopting 3D printing as they realize the upside of offering the service to their clients. Unfortunately, many established manufacturing companies lack the ability to be nimble and agile or shy away from the high capital costs of implementing 3D printing technology and training their workers to use it.

Enter a leader in the 3D printing sector, Shapeways, which has launched Otto, a SaaS product aimed at helping traditional manufacturers get up to speed quickly with 3D printing. The goal of Otto is to make it possible for manufacturers to offer 3D printing to their clients without taking on the risks and capital expenditures associated with adopting an emerging technology.

Otto users unlock a full white label site through which they can process their customers’ orders and fulfill them through Shapeways. (Image credit: Shapeways.)

Otto users unlock a full white label site through which they can process their customers’ orders and fulfill them through Shapeways. (Image credit: Shapeways.)

“Our goal with Otto is to make it incredibly easy and fast for any manufacturer anywhere to benefit from 3D printing,” said Greg Kress, CEO of Shapeways. “Enabling seamless access to world-class digital manufacturing removes the required capex and hassles of setting up dedicated production capabilities. Manufacturers can sign up for Otto free of charge and start using our services right away.”

Seeking an End-to-End 3D Printing Solution

3D printing and additive manufacturing have been hailed as a revolutionary, transformative technology for the industry, but adoption rates remain extremely low. Fewer than 2 percent of manufacturers are using 3D printing or additive manufacturing applications in their daily operations despite the fact that interest in the technology is high and there are significant long-term benefits to using it. In the grand scheme of the global manufacturing sector, revenue and sales attributed to 3D printing amount to a write-off—only $8.6 billion in 2020. Growth rates, however, remain strong at over 30 percent annually.

3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way parts and products are manufactured, but only if solutions can be developed to drive widespread adoption. (Image credit: Labdox.)

3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way parts and products are manufactured, but only if solutions can be developed to drive widespread adoption. (Image credit: Labdox.)

The tools and hardware are available to make 3D printing a more widespread application that can optimize manufacturing, but many manufacturers continue to shy away from the technology over cost and material concerns. While the fact remains that there are large up-front costs associated with investing in 3D printing hardware and employee training, the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the initial drag on the bottom line, especially in a post-pandemic environment where supply chain, material shortages and staffing issues continue to throw a wrench into manufacturing operations. Utilizing 3D printing can allow manufacturers to sidestep or mitigate these issues and also become more sustainable in the process.

In July 2021, Shapeways conducted an industry survey to gauge the attitudes toward 3D printing and the needs of manufacturers. The results showed a clear need for a software solution that could enable more widespread adoption of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents reported using six or more software solutions and programs to manage their manufacturing and products. That’s simply too many moving parts to get through design, scheduling and finishing. A centralized software product dedicated solely to 3D printing is needed to convert more skeptics, and that’s what Otto aims to become.

Shapeways took the information gathered from its survey and distilled it into Otto, a finished SaaS platform that looks to fulfil many of the desires and needs of the manufacturing community. The most commonly mentioned software features and functions requested by manufacturers were as follows:

  • Real-time tracking and traceability
  • A single interface to manage internal workflows and external supply chains
  • The ability to attain the data needed for industry-specific certifications
  • Vendor-agnostic hardware or materials
  • A single view into the end-to-end manufacturing process

A Different Type of 3D Printing Offering

What sets Shapeways apart from other offerings and products in the 3D printing space is its value proposition and software. Shapeways is different from its competitors in the 3D printing industry in that the company is not seeking to sell a product to manufacturers that allows them to ramp up their own 3D printing. Rather, Otto, the SaaS offering, has Shapeways act as a 3D printing fulfillment center. Otto users and their clients see a clean, simple interface and web-based platform that is as simple to use as an ordering process on Amazon.

Kespry, an innovative drone manufacturer, has come to rely on Shapeways for its 3D-printed solutions. (Image credit: Shapeways.)

Kespry, an innovative drone manufacturer, has come to rely on Shapeways for its 3D-printed solutions. (Image credit: Shapeways.)

Users upload a 3D design file to a white label web page that has been fully customized for each business, complete with logo and branding. Next, they select materials, standards, colors and finishing touches before proceeding to checkout. Receiving payment is as simple as having a client input their credit card information. Finally, Shapeways manages the 3D printing process and ships the order to the customer.

Otto aims to invite more manufacturers into the world of 3D printing with minimal investment. There are no overhead costs associated with working with Shapeways to fulfill customers’ 3D printing orders—and there’s no need for them to purchase printers and materials or train their staff on new technology. The entire process is handled through the Otto web platform and Shapeways printers. The software works to analyze each part and keep pricing competitive. Manufacturers pay Shapeways to print their orders while setting their desired profit margins. There are no up-front costs aside from purchasing the software, and Shapeways and the manufacturer profit together as client orders are fulfilled.

“Leveraging 3D printing and Shapeways allowed us to get things out there faster without paying an exorbitant premium to do it. And it also allows us to make modifications and improvements to our product without interrupting shipping them out to customers. So, we can make a change and incorporate it in production in a few weeks, whereas if we were doing injection molding, it would take maybe a couple of months to make that sort of change. Especially now at production scale, Shapeways can handle the quantities that we’re dealing with really well, without long lead times,” explained Jordan Croom, the lead mechanical engineer at Kespry, an industrial drone startup.

Shapeways has already printed and delivered over 21 million parts for over 1 million customers in 160 countries. Its 3D printing operation can utilize 90 different materials, including plastic, steel, aluminum and other metals and over 10 different printing methods. Shapeways has served clients in a wide range of industries, including medical devices, robotics, drones, home furnishings and architecture. It almost seems as if there is nothing that Shapeways can’t print.

The Future of 3D Printing

We’ve been hearing that 3D printing is the next big thing for over 10 years, but the emergence of a dedicated SaaS model for the technology may be what it takes to push widespread adoption over the top. On-demand 3D printing without the need for dedicated capital or the floor space to house hardware and materials will allow more manufacturers to dip their toes into 3D printing without being forced to commit fully to it. SaaS has transformed virtually every major industry in the global economy, and now it’s poised to do the same thing for 3D printing with Otto by Shapeways.