new online service aims to bring customized manufacturing to the masses by allowing consumers to submit digital designs of products that are then printed, using 3-D printers, and shipped back.
Currently, such 3-D printers--in which successive layers of different polymers are sprayed gradually, building up a 3-D object--are very expensive, says Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways, a spinout from Philips Research, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
But the new service, launched last week, makes this technology accessible to anyone: budding artists, architects, product designers, and general hobbyists. A small design company might want to make samples to show a client, or an artist might want to make copies of the same sculpture created digitally, for example.
"From a technology viewpoint, Shapeways is not that new," says Weijmarshausen. "Rapid prototyping has been used by the aircraft and automotive industries for years, but now we're making it accessible to consumers."
Users submit their design in digital form, after which Shapeways's software checks it over to ensure that it can be made. Shapeways then passes the design to its production line of polymer printers, delivering the tangible object within 10 days of ordering, with prices typically between $50 and $150.
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