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Consumer Co-Creation Trend Takes on New Shape

By Susan Smith

One of the new materials Shapeways is looking at, as the picture depicts it, is metal. The technique used for metal will be Metal Laser Sintering, where a laser melts tiny particles of metal together to form the object.

Consumers are getting into the act now with 3D printing as providers become more creative with bringing down the cost of production. Shapeways LLC of Eindhoven, The Netherlands advertises itself as the “first online consumer co-creation community,” offering a beta 3D printing service promising to lower the cost of 3D printing. According to Jochem de Boer, CMO of Shapeways, the company is able to offer lower cost 3D printing by striving to reduce prices by increasing scale: “by handling higher order volumes and more automation in both the digital production as well as the 3D tools included in our portal, and by Web 2.0 enabling user-generated content and co-creation.”

Shapeways is a spin-off from the Lifestyle Incubator of Royal Philips Electronics, located in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Already in just the short time the service been in beta, a few thousand beta users have used the service, which is expected to be available mid-August.

Currently Shapeways offers four materials for the objects to be created in. Initially, the objects can be created in White Strong & Flexible (SLS), Cream Robust (FDM), White Detail and Transparent detail (both Objet); and color and additional materials will soon follow. Accepted file formats include STL, Collada, and X3D. Shapeways can produce almost any design users choose to upload and checks whether the submitted objects can be produced, plus provides a real-time cost estimate (average cost is $50-$150).

The head of the Objet printer is printing two copies of Macouno’s Shapeways model Petunia(Of Project Petunia fame). The two Petunias are on a base plate that moves down along the Z axis to give the model depth.

This way, users can figure in the production cost of their design and choose material and size accordingly before ordering. The actual product will be produced and delivered to the customer within ten working days.

3D printing technologies offered by Shapeways include Stratasys FDM 400mc, Object and SLS. They say they will add more based upon demand.

Basically the company is focused on making 3D printing available to consumers, yet the low cost is bound to be attractive to professionals as well. Artists, architects, product designers can order 3D designs made into physical objects at very low cost and in a desired material.

The website’s forum is very active. You can download 3D ideas and share or discuss your designs with fellow members. The site beta launch is by private invite only; users can sign up for consideration to enter the Shapeways community at www.shapeways.com/beta.

Some really valuable advice is sought and offered, such as the fact that providing several unjoined surfaces is not enough; one has to provide a solid with faces joined at the edges. One reader expressed that the need to upload every part of an assembly separately is tedious. It would be more convenient to combine all of the *.stl files into one *.zip, and then add descriptive text for each of the files after uploading. This would be particularly helpful for heavy, serious users. Help is offered with the models, particularly for new users who may not be experienced in checking their designs for overlapping features, etc. Some users upload models with more faces than the current server can manage, which for the time being, is resolved by breaking the model up. The situation is expected to be fixed in the final version.

Eindhoven, The Netherlands

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