Shapeways CEO: 3D Printing Will Fuel Creative Commerce
Shapeways CEO: 3D Printing Will Fuel Creative Commerce
Although 3D printing has been around since the ’80s, it only recently moved out of specialty prototyping shops. As the technology becomes more accessible — allowing anybody to design anything they want — it could revolutionize the way products are made and distributed.
“We think it will give rise to a creative commerce,” said Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen on stage at Mashable Connect Friday.
Shapeways was one of the first companies to put a consumer spin on 3D printing. The startup’s website allows designers to upload their wares for printing and sell the results in an Etsy-like store. Those without design experience can tweak existing models to their liking before printing them in one of 25 different materials, including stainless steel, ceramics and sterling silver.
Weijmarshausen says the company printed 750,000 products in 2011. He expects “many times more this year — millions.”
The other company most often credited for the rise of the consumer 3D printing trend is MakerBot, which sells 3D printers for about $1,700.
So how does the trend toward 3D printing products, rather than just prototypes, change the world?
“Products will get better, quicker because you don’t have stock that you have to sell,” Weijmarshausen says. “You can do new versions tomorrow. You can do version seven in a week. And that way, we will get products that are much more relevant to us.”
3D printing allows designers to iterate quickly and without risk, which means they can incorporate feedback immediately.
Instead of getting a loan, paying a manufacturer, putting it through retail channels and hoping it sells, designers can make just as many units as they sell. If they have new ideas or feedback, they can incorporate them immediately instead of waiting until their latest version sells out.
The technology has already lowered the barrier to creating new products, but we’re not quite ready to abandon mass production. For one thing, 3D printing is still a lot more expensive than buying a mass-produced item. A custom ring costs $40, a bracelet can be $100 and a small vase costs about $50. While those prices aren’t at the most expensive end of their respective categories, they make printing large items impractical.
“It’s lot of money for this vase,” said Weijmarshausen, referring to the $50 model sitting on the podium. “But at the same time, it’s the only vase in the world that looks like this…As this technology becomes more and more popular, I think the cost will come down.”
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