It seems [Andrew] is an up and coming historian for the world of 3D printing. We’ve seen him interview the creator of Slic3r, but this time around he’s headed over to Eindhoven, Netherlands to interview the community manager for Shapeways, [Bart Veldhuizen].
Unlike the RepRaps, Ultimkers, and Makerbots, Shapeways is an entirely different ecosystem of 3D printing. Instead of building a machine that requires many hours of tinkering, you can just upload a model and have a physical representation delivered to your door in a week. You can also upload objects for others to buy. Despite these competing philosophies, [Bart] doesn’t see Shapeways as encroaching on the homebrew 3D printers out there; they serve different markets, and competition is always good.
Unfortunately, [Andrew] wasn’t allowed to film on the Shapeways factory floor. Proprietary stuff and whatnot, as well as a few certain ‘key words’ that will speed your customer support request up to the top of the queue.
As for how Shapeways actually produces hundreds of objects a day, [Andrew] learned that individual orders are made in batches, with several customer’s parts made in a single run. While most of the parts made by Shapeways are manufactured in-house, they do outsource silver casting after making the preliminary positive mold.
As for the future, a lot of customers are asking about mixed media, with plastic/nylon combined with metal being at the top of the list. It’s difficult to say what the future of 3D printing will be, but [Bart] makes an allusion to cell phones from 10 years ago. In 2003, nobody had smartphones, and now we have an always-on wireless Internet connection in our pockets. Given the same rate of technological progress, we can’t wait to see what 3D printing will be like in 10 years, either.