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Shapeways

August 30, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:15

A new type of additive manufacturing (AM) service provider is targeting consumers. One of the best examples is Netherlands-based Shapeways, a company that is a part of the Philips Electronics’ incubator program. The company, which launched in Q2 2008, allows customers to upload a design that Shapeways will manufacture using a method of AM. This may sound similar to a conventional AM service provider, although Shapeways focuses entirely on the consumer market. Also, it offers a portfolio of “creator” tools that makes it easier for customers unfamiliar with conventional design tools to create custom products. Prices range from a few dollars for a ring or key chain to $100 for a semi-custom “Lightpoem” lamp. Larger pieces can cost hundreds of dollars.

Shapeways Shops, a service that became available in January 2009, allows artists, designers, or anyone to set up their own “storefront” to sell AM-produced products to the public. Shapeways handles the sales transaction, manufacturing, and shipment to the customer. All manufacturing is done by laser sintering, fused deposition modeling, PolyJet, or ProMetal. Products include sculptures, jewelry, figurines, and a wide range of other consumer-oriented products. To an  extent, Shapeways Shops is modeled after CafePress, a website that is said to be growing by about 2,000 new shops and 45,000 new products per day. The products from CafePress are custom t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, postcards, mouse pads, ornaments, clocks, and a wide range of other items.

I spoke with Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways, about the company’s recent introduction of metal-based products. Custom and semi-custom metal rings are now available from the company for as little as $10-30. A 50-mm (2-inch) custom statue is priced in the range of $40-50. The cost of larger parts rise according to the amount of material used to make them.

Weijmarshausen explained that tens of thousands of items are now available at the Shapeways gallery. He said the company is currently producing and selling thousands of products per month. Given the low prices of many of them, you’d have to sell thousands to begin to cover expenses. It’s difficult to know when Shapeways will become profitable, but at its current growth rate, it could occur sooner than one might expect.