3D Printing could emerge as the next big thing in the next couple of years. The concept once seemed so far from the reach of mankind that we collectively accepted the notion of 3D printing as the exclusive property of Star Trek and other Science Fiction. Printing a three dimensional solid object based on a digitally formed design is not necessarily new, but making the technology or end product available at a low cost certainly is. Whether you realize it or not, a number of firms have been making real strides towards this eventual goal. That means every minute, every hour, and every day we’ve moved at least a little closer to the reality of personal 3D printing. Websites like Mashable and GeekoSystems have been covering these innovations since their early stages and often use words like “exciting” when describing the technology and progress. I think those words might actually understate the gravity of recent 3D printing developments. Three dimensional printing is, quite simply, awe inspiring. It literally inspires awe. It could do things that only writers and artists of immense creative depth and imagination could dream up AND it can do them in the real world.
The potential business implications of three dimensional printing warrant just as much enthusiasm. I’m not alone in my thinking here as a number of 3D printing startups have attracted extremely high level financing. It was reported in May that even the Pentagon was investing $60 Million in 3D Printing Programs and in June of this year MakieLab, a firm that specializes in personalized 3d printed dolls, raised $1.4 Million in seed funding. In fact, there’s even a website setup to examine 3d printing investment options.
Shapeways, a company who recently cut the ribbon on a new 3D Printing Factory in October, is 3D Printing marketplace and community. They make 3D product design and distribution more accessible by providing a platform upon which individuals can make, buy and sell their own 3D printed products. Shapeways is headquartered in New York with offices in Eindhoven and Seattle and their primary investors include Lux Capital and Union Square Ventures in New York and Index Ventures in London. Co-founder and CEO Peter Weijmarshausen’s previous experience includes helping to create an open-source 3D software package called Blender.
The Shapeways website offers clients the option to browse existing designs (either for inspiration or to purchase one) or create and upload you own design to sell or ship to a particular location. They can build your product/model on a number of different materials ranging from glass, to sterling silver, to various types of plastic. They even provide tutorials on 3D modeling and offer ideas as to how you can use Shapeways (eg. Draw your own earrings!)
“Designing something in 2 minutes”
Another interesting aspect of the Shapeways experience is that people are free to comment and rate each other’s designs. As previously mentioned the website offers 3D modeling tutorials but it also offers aspiring designers rich community forums to share ideas and seek out advice. I suspect a big part of the success of the site and the concept as a whole can be related to their ability to leverage that community to promote and share exciting designs – not unlike, say, designbyhumans.com or any number of “crowd sourced” T-Shirt design companies.
Shapeways has taken the exhilarating concept of digital modeling to three dimensional fabrication and made it even more intriguing by introducing a platform to buy, sell, and share. At the very least they deserve credit for making your own personal “Itty Bitty Sad Keanu” available to anybody for only 25$.