It seems incredible but it has already been ten years since Shapeways, one of the leading B2C online 3D printing service bureaus, began its activity in Eindhoven. Five years later, on On October 19, 2012, Shapeways opened a new 3D printing factory in Long Island City, Queens, New York, that could house 50 industrial printers and churn out millions of consumer-designed products a year. It then opened a completely new factory in Holland. Today Shapeways turns 10.
Shapeways began as a spin-off of Royal Philips Electronics, the Netherlands in 2007. It was founded by Peter Weijmarshausen, Robert Schouwenburg and Marleen Vogelaar (who later left the company to seek new professional ventures) and the idea came forth at the Philips design department. It achieved further development under the `Philips Lifestyle Incubator` program which offers support for start-up companies with innovative ideas. Today it offers 3D printing through a number of advanced technologies including laser sintering by EOS, color jet printing, multijet printing and stereolithography 3D Systems, FDM and polyjet by Stratasys and the newest multijet fusion by HP.
Ten years ago today, Shapeways was just an idea. “I remember the day well. Walking into a small office in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, there was a chair, a table and that was it. I had a plan, but also a lot of figuring to do,” says Co-Founder & CEO Pete Weijmarshausen in an interview published on the Shapeways official blog. It was March 1, 2007, his first day working full-time on Shapeways, and the unofficial birthday of the company. Still, to Pete, it seems like yesterday. “I almost can’t believe it has been 10 years. It seems time flies when you are having fun!”
“I love to share cool technologies with as many people as possible, and I felt 3D printing was one of the coolest, most magical technologies I’d ever seen.” Pete Weijmarshausen, Shapeways Co-Founder & CEO
Having fun has a lot to do with why Pete was drawn to the idea of Shapeways; he’s always loved to geek out on futuristic tech. And, it’s no surprise that the idea for the company was born in the 3D design community – the same community that still fuels and sustains it. “When I learned about 3D printing, the first thing I thought was, ‘OMG, this is something I need to share with my friends in the Blender community!’ I knew that so many people use 3D software (like Blender) to create beautiful things they are passionate about on their computers, in the digital domain, but could not hold those in their hands. I wanted to change that.”
Weijmarshausen reveals that the biggest, perhaps not unexpected challenge was (and perhaps still is) that the technology we call 3D printing was not initially made for manufacturing. When we started Shapeways, the technology was called Rapid Prototyping or Rapid Manufacturing. It was for the largest part used for prototyping, which has totally different requirements than manufacturing in terms of quality, speed, and especially cost. The challenge was to use what was and is available for manufacturing. The biggest challenge of the three components was cost. For years Shapeways struggled to make the products its community asked for at a cost that was a good fit. Since then they have made huge progress in that front, but there is still much to do. “That is also why I am still very excited about the entry of HP into the market,” says Weijmarshausen “They have built a new machine, starting with the idea that 3D printers are not (completely) made for manufacturing, that they are too expensive, do not yield high enough quality, and are too slow. The new machine we are currently testing seems to fix that to a large extent. But again, we are not done.”
“I think what has happened over the last two years or so is that the idea of the desktop printer being the answer for consumer 3D printing has been debunked”, says Weijmarshausen. “In a sense, we have stayed true to our vision that giving consumers access to high-end 3D printers is the way to unlock their creativity and enable them to make amazing products. We continue to work to make our website easy to use, adding features and tools that unlock creativity, and helping our users to get what they want. We also continue to work to make the quality top-notch, for a great price, and as fast as people want – which is now! The progress we have made and the things we can still do will further unlock the market.”
“…we have stayed true to our vision that giving consumers access to high-end 3D printers is the way to unlock their creativity and enable them to make amazing products.”
As the technology matures, both on the printing side and on the creation side (3D software), it will become easier and more relevant for anyone to use it. The announcement of HP’s entry into the market has incentivized other big players like CANON and Toshiba to consider making 3D printers. At the same time, new players are preparing to and are entering the market, like Carbon3D and Desktop Metal. But, it has also re-incentivized existing players to accelerate their R&D. All of that leads to enhanced abilities to deliver amazing products for consumers. Meanwhile, the software is getting better and better. New web-based 3D software like Onshape, but also Oculus Medium (a VR 3D modeling tool), Sixsense (VR) and 3D scanning are becoming mature. All of that will enable people to more easily express what they want. Shapeways’ role is to be the platform to connect people with all this technology, making it easy for them to get ideas into products.
Read the full 10 year anniversay interview with Pete Weijmarshausen on the Shapeways blog