Saturday, August 31, 2013

Small Empires grow into a big success - Shapeways

There's a great series of video interviews running on The Verge at the moment. It is called Small Empires. Hosted by Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, the series focuses on New York based startups.

Episode 5 caught my eye this week as it features a visit to Shapeways, the 3D printing success story which started in the South-East corner of the Netherlands. Founded by an ex-Philips employee, Peter Weijmarshausen, these guys combine very clever technology with a passion for cool design. And by building a shop rather like an art gallery, it inspires others to make things. My son used the 3D service they built in Eindhoven for a project earlier this year - their turnaround time was phenomenal and the costs were very reasonable. Quality of the final product was simply perfect.

Personally, I have no doubt that 3D printing is going to be big. I already know people who use Shapeways or companies like it to make spare parts on-demand to restore antique cars. Why keep a storehouse full of spares when you may need a part every few years? The video above also features co-founder and COO of Shapeways Marleen Vogelaar. It seems the reason that Shapeways has managed to raise more than 30 million dollars in funding is due to the strength of the community they have built around the factory in Long Island City, in Queens, New York. And they have some mighty cool offices on the 9th floor of the building at 419 Park Avenue South in Manhattan!

They help those people uploading designs, giving advice as to whether it will print well in 3D. And the fact that they have printing facilities on both sides of the Atlantic has reduced both shipping costs and the time customers need to wait for their designs to arrive. Shapeways is much more than a print shop dealing with 30,000 uploads to their website per month - in my experience they also give extremely useful advice. The goal is to build a factory with 50 3D printers. There may be a time when everyone has a 3D printer at home, but, as you can see in the video, there's a bit more work needed than just filling a stack of paper as with its 2D cousin. Crafting these objects still takes a few hours in 3D. 

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