3-D Printing on Demand

Shapeways.com is beta testing a new service allowing people to print three dimensional models. Customers can upload designs or use a creation tool hosted at the Shapeways website then order a printed model of their designs for less than $3 per square centimeter. The printed items are shipped to the customer in ten days or less, bringing 3-D printing to consumers and not just companies large enough to afford their own printers.

3-D Printing on Demand -
3-D Printing on Demand
– “GasGuy” 3D figure printed
with a 3D printer
(Credit: Shapeways.com)

Even the cheapest three dimensional printers cost $20,000 not including the expense of consumables such as the powders used as the base for the printed models. Shapeways.com brings the cost of model creation down into the hundreds of dollars (or even less for small items), making it accessible to even private individuals. The online design creator also helps open the market to the general consumer market by removing the need for expertise in 3-D design software.

Shapeways also allows visitors to their website to view recently created designs, rate them, and even use them as the basis for their own designs if the original design creators allow it. Shapeways looks to combine their service with a social networking site revolving around 3-D models, allowing individual users to print items, just participate on the website through commenting and forum posting, or do both.

Indeed, although small businesses and inventors are free to use their service, Shapeways seems to be aiming primarily at the consumer market with products like a light poem, a printed poem or phrase written around a high cylindrical shade that can surround a Phillips Imageo LED candle. Other consumer-oriented templates are on their way including a decorative bowl that can be reshaped to suit the taste of different customers.

3d sphere (Credit: Shapeways.com)
3D sphere
(Credit: Shapeways.com)

Shapeways includes several tutorials and tip articles including a page highlighting some of the differences between conceptual 3-D designs and those meant for printing and an extensive table of information about the available materials. Shapeways currently supports four different materials, each with different properties and different requirements related to size restrictions and the level of detail present in the design.

Three dimensional printing on demand brings this process to the masses – literally. Instead of baseline costs in the many thousands of dollars, rapid three dimensional models or objects can now be created at a minimal cost and even without experience using 3-D design tools. With an eye toward social networking and consumer products, Shapeways is looking to open up a cutting edge market to a much wider audience.

TFOT has written about an MIT student project that creates and recycles plastic plates on demand and programmable bendable polymers that fold into pre-programmed shapes when heated.

You can find out more about three dimensional printing on demand, design and print your own models, or rate and comment other people’s designs at Shapeways.com.

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