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Inside the World's Biggest Consumer 3D Printing Factory 105

Posted by Soulskill
from the set-to-churn-out-slightly-smaller-factories dept.
Sparrowvsrevolution writes "Much has been made of consumer 3D printers like Makerbot's Replicator and the open-source RepRap. But for those not yet willing to shell out thousands of dollars for their own machine, Shapeways offers 3D printing as a mail-order service. And its new Queens, NY factory is now the biggest production facility for consumer 3D printing in the world. Just one of Shapeways' industrial 3D printers, which use lasers to fuse nylon dust, can print a thousand objects in a day, with far higher resolution than a consumer machine as well as intricate features like interlocking and nested parts. The company hopes to have more than fifty of those printers up and running within a year. And it also offers printing in materials that aren't attainable at home, like gold, silver, ceramic, sandstone and steel."
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Inside the World's Biggest Consumer 3D Printing Factory

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  • If I front some capital, can I become the next Shapeways? Do I just buy machines people can't afford, and then print things on those machines, selling them at a markup sufficient to recoup my costs? Or is there something else going on?

    • by Anaerin (905998) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @09:35PM (#42256557)

      To answer your questions, in order:

      • Yes
      • Yes
      • No, that's all there is to it.
      • by NoMaster (142776)

        You left out the bit about getting your advertising for free...

      • by kryzx (178628) *

        No, no, you missed the point of the whole story, which is: hey these machines are soooo cooooool!!!!
        And it's true. They are.
        Wait, were we supposed to be posting news?

    • by Tr3vin (1220548) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @09:37PM (#42256571)
      There is a bit more going on. I don't know how easily you could jump into the market at this point. Shapeways benefited from being one of the first to offer a 3D printing service, so they didn't have too much competition. There was also a bit of an overlap with their early community and the community around Blender, so the userbase was able to grow quickly. They had some growing pains early on with delays in printing although it appears that they have worked through most of the issues at this point. It wouldn't be impossible to have similar success, but being the new guy in the market isn't always the easiest. The best bet of course is to not just join the market but expand it.
    • by Kielistic (1273232) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @10:02PM (#42256719)

      It would require a lot of capital. These machines and their materials are absurdly expensive. You require knowledge on how these machines function. You need to be able to translate what the customer wants to the given machine (high 3d modelling and CAD skills). You need the know-how to put objects together into single prints so you're not waiting for one single small object (optimization). And most importantly you need to be able to add the support structures so the objects do not break in the process (physics, 3d modelling, CAD). Etc etc.

      So essentially, like any other highly specialized tech field, it requires lots of expertise. You don't just load up a docx and hit print.

      • Support structures? You don't seem to understand how their printers work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Kielistic (1273232)

          I know quite well how their printers work. But in case you don't believe me here's Shapeways' take on the topic: support structures [google.com]

          • Selective Laser Sintering does not need support structures, unlike Fused Deposition Modeling.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          Support structures? You don't seem to understand how their printers work.

          some of their techniques need support structures. what makes it hard to start competing with shapeways is that they have pretty much all 3d printing techniques covered.

    • by poity (465672) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @10:06PM (#42256739)

      The most important part is getting people to know you exist (and getting them to trust you). Now that Shapeways has an article on Forbes, everyone else, including you, is miles behind.

    • by raymorris (2726007) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @10:25PM (#42256835)
      In a banjs new industry, it's all about marketing, getting market share. Profits come later, after the market stabilizes and you are the market leader. So plan to spend a lot more on marketing than machines at first. Also, three months later, better machines will come out. Buy smart and plan to replace often. Better processes will also be developed, so budget big for research and development so that your process is better than the other guy's.
    • by samkass (174571) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @10:39PM (#42256915) Homepage Journal

      One barrier to entry could conceivably be (of course!) patents. The first company to do large-scale 3D printing I'm aware of was Align Technology, Inc., maker of Invisalign plastic braces (I'm a former employee). They've been printing positive molds for the aligners using stereolithography for over a dozen years, and have a lot of patents in the "mass customization" industry. When you start printing tens of thousands of unique objects a day like they've been doing for years there are certain methods that give you economies of scale despite each piece being different. It's not applicable to low-volume home printing, but when you get to a warehouse of 3D printers things could get interesting. There are probably other companies out there with additional work in this space that will crop up if it gets lucrative enough. (And hey, many aren't even software patents.)

    • They don't mention it, but I would imagine there is a lot of automatic optimization for maximizing yield per print across multiple orders. I bet there's some Tetris Master level packing that's augmented by some automatic order system.

      You also need a front end as well as a hopefully automated back-end to detect model errors (holes etc). As well as some software to weed out models that can't print well.

      These are still high-tech devices and I'm sure you would also need people who are trained in the numerous

    • by Daetrin (576516)
      Whoa! You mean if people want [good or service] all i have to do is find a way convince people to buy [good or service] from me for more than it would cost me to [acquire/produce/provide] that [good or service] in bulk? That's amazing! Why isn't everyone doing that?

      As usual, the devil is in the details. And in surviving the eventual competition with everyone else who gets the kinks worked out of the system as well.
    • If I front some capital, can I become the next Shapeways?

      It may already be too late. Staples is getting into the game: http://seekingalpha.com/article/1042071-staples-fires-warning-flare-to-3d-printing-market [seekingalpha.com]

      I would not be surprised to see a home improvement or other big hardware chain get into it too. Think NAPA 3D parts for autos

  • Good service (Score:5, Informative)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @09:11PM (#42256421)

    I ordered the sintered steel thorn dice set from them for roleplaying games, and I have to say I'm delighted. I'd imagine in about fifty years home manufactories will be about as common as power tool sets are today, although if you want the best quality you'll have to go to larger producers. Mostly they will be used for short term, specialised, low stress, or artistic requirements though, I can't see anyone printing off high end tech like the latest laptop cheaper than it could be bought through regular channels.

    • by Dan East (318230)

      Neither the story, the summary, or even your comment, has what most people want to know: how much does their service cost?
      How much did your dice cost? Do they charge by the time it takes to print, or the amount of material used?

      • Re:Cost (Score:4, Informative)

        by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @09:33PM (#42256541)

        Eh its all on their site. The steel dice that let me roll like Sauron cost about $12-$15 each, with the expected postage. Those were the most expensive ones though except the gold plated versions, so material used would be the main thing associated with the cost. http://www.shapeways.com/model/126266/thorn-dice-set-with-decader.html [shapeways.com]

        • That's not too expensive. The vintage scope people , like me, are quite happy that they can make replacement knobs, so I wasn't too sure what else could be done. I wonder how detailed and solid you can make these steel parts. "Solid", of course, being a highly technical term meaning it won't snap in half when I turn one of those massive control shafts on a Tektronix 547.
      • by Anaerin (905998)
        They charge by the amount of material used, as a simple glance at http://www.shapeways.com/materials [shapeways.com] would show you.
        • by timeOday (582209)
          Is the amount of material used just the weight of the finished product, or is there some overhead / waste (like in woodworking?) Second, do they analyze your design ahead of time and tell you exactly what the print cost would be?

          I also wondered, is there any way to know if a design will print out correctly? For example if I designed a pencil balancing on its tip with no supports, does the software, or somebody at shapeways, alert me that I'm being stupid?

          • I also wondered, is there any way to know if a design will print out correctly? For example if I designed a pencil balancing on its tip with no supports, does the software, or somebody at shapeways, alert me that I'm being stupid?

            Yep... they check your models before they print it and will notify you of problems like that. From their FAQ [shapeways.com]:

            When a product is ordered for the first time a manual check will be done to make sure the object is printable. Now, factors like wall thickness and detail thickness are tested, which sometimes leads to the rejection of the design. Sometimes products for sale (whether it is your own or not) can be uploaded but turn out not to be printable.

            Unfortunately, we do not have an automated way of checking every single design rule, which is why we optimize and only do a thorough (manual) check for designs that are ordered, not just designs that are uploaded.

          • by lewiscr (3314)

            For example if I designed a pencil balancing on its tip with no supports, does the software, or somebody at shapeways, alert me that I'm being stupid?

            That shouldn't be a problem. If you watch the video in TFA, the item is built up layer by layer, supported by un-fused stock. Your pencil balancing on it's tip will be supported by surrounding material, until it's finished and removed. At which point it won't be balanced on it's tip anymore. This is how they build hollow pieces, and pieces with overhangs.

            As the sibling poster mentioned, they do check for other things. Like they make sure that hollow items aren't too thin, connecting struts actually con

    • ... home manufactories....

      After all the Warhammer gaming, I think I'll be calling mine a Manufactorum.

  • Okay, what if I submit a design to print a 3D gun (or replacement parts for one)? What about the packaging for, say, a credit card skimmer? How about a timing circuit made entirely out of electrically-conductive plastic (so it doesn't show up on an x-ray scanner)? I can only hope they look at the things being submitted; But I'm reminded of the scene in Batman begins where Alfred says, "Well, we'll have to order a lot of them in order to avoid suspicion." "Oh? How many?" "About ten thousand sir." "Well, at l

    • by LordLucless (582312) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @09:34PM (#42256547)

      Okay, what if I submit a design to print a 3D gun (or replacement parts for one)? What about the packaging for, say, a credit card skimmer? How about a timing circuit made entirely out of electrically-conductive plastic (so it doesn't show up on an x-ray scanner)?

      Um, then you should receive a 3D gun, the packaging for a credit card skimmer, or a timing circuit. Haven't we gotten past this "make the tools illegal" crap yet? It's what you do with them, not the item itself that's problematic, and there are valid uses for all the above.

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @09:42PM (#42256605)

        Um, then you should receive a 3D gun, the packaging for a credit card skimmer, or a timing circuit. Haven't we gotten past this "make the tools illegal" crap yet? It's what you do with them, not the item itself that's problematic, and there are valid uses for all the above.

        I've tried telling my government that... but they keep arresting, torturing, threatening, and imprisoning me whenever I do. I'm also on a whole bunch of watch lists, kill lists, security lists, lists of lists, databases of lists, lists of databases... I don't even know anymore whether I'm coded green, yellow, orange, additional screening, deportation... it seems like they come up with new ways to criminalize things every day. I don't know a single person who isn't a felon anymore... the only difference is, not all of them have been caught or pissed in the cheerios of someone "important".

        • by Osgeld (1900440)

          sounds like you have bigger problems than ordering crap you could easily make out of any material

          • by gmhowell (26755)

            sounds like you have bigger problems than ordering crap you could easily make out of any material

            This is not news regarding OP.

      • No. Manufacturing a gun is manufacturing a gun -- which without a license/permit is highly illegal.

        I'm sure someone actually hand checks every submission though--otherwise they would have a poor reputation for things failing.

        • by jafiwam (310805)

          It depends on WHO manufactures it, and in what context. If I wanted to, I could use a sharpie and draw on my nice oak desk here, then cut it out with a razorblade, and put AR15 parts on it, and I have legally manufactured a gun.

          I just can't do that with intent to SELL the gun.

          It doesn't sound like IF the ATF ruled these guys couldn't legally make a lower, that it would qualify as SELLING a gun. After all, I sent them the gun pattern to print. They are selling me labor and materials, but the project i

      • by jamesh (87723)

        Okay, what if I submit a design to print a 3D gun (or replacement parts for one)? What about the packaging for, say, a credit card skimmer? How about a timing circuit made entirely out of electrically-conductive plastic (so it doesn't show up on an x-ray scanner)?

        Um, then you should receive a 3D gun, the packaging for a credit card skimmer, or a timing circuit. Haven't we gotten past this "make the tools illegal" crap yet? It's what you do with them, not the item itself that's problematic, and there are valid uses for all the above.

        I think you'll find that if you are found to have an unlicensed firearm, your pathetic cries of "but I have a valid use for it!!!" will not do you much good.

        • And I think your assumption that any given gun is necessarily unlicensed is going to get you laughed out of the logicians club.

    • by Anaerin (905998)

      Okay, what if I submit a design to print a 3D gun (or replacement parts for one)?

      If you submit a design to print a 3D gun, or replacement parts, you'll get them. Of course, the tolerances won't be as close as a specifically machined part, nor would it really be strong enough to use to fire bullets (As it would be made of plastic. Sintered Stainless Steel would be strong enough, but again would have to be machined for an accurate fit).

      Or if you wanted to do the same thing easily at home you could make a simple "Zip Gun" with a little plumbing pipe. Or a flamethrower with PVC pipe, a flas

      • by gmhowell (26755)

        If you submit a design to print a 3D gun, or replacement parts, you'll get them. Of course, the tolerances won't be as close as a specifically machined part, nor would it really be strong enough to use to fire bullets (As it would be made of plastic. Sintered Stainless Steel would be strong enough, but again would have to be machined for an accurate fit).

        Except for the point where you are either wrong or grossly overstating things. There are plenty of polymer lowers [lw15.com] capable of shooting actual lead bullets (or steel, copper coverings may vary). So far, none of the printed ones seem to have held up long. Then again, the Wright brothers' first attempts weren't so hot either. Or Babbage's first contraptions. But plastic in and of itself is not a deal breaker when it comes to firearms.

      • by gmhowell (26755)

        Damnit, forgot to address another point. I've stated elsewhere (and have others) that the lower receiver is actually a 'gun' according to the ATF in the US. In order to make a gun for sale, you have to go through all sorts of hoops. Making a gun for yourself, not so much. I figure that this 3rd party making a receiver would be 'making a gun' in the eyes of the law and therefore not going to happen. Or not happen much.

        Making a grip, sights, barrels, and just about any other part should be ok. Making a lower

      • If you say nuclear bomb it implies fission (as you hint to plutonium). The criticsl mass of plutonium is significantly higher than 2kg though.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      Okay, what if I submit a design to print a 3D gun (or replacement parts for one)? What about the packaging for, say, a credit card skimmer? How about a timing circuit made entirely out of electrically-conductive plastic (so it doesn't show up on an x-ray scanner)? I can only hope they look at the things being submitted; But I'm reminded of the scene in Batman begins where Alfred says, "Well, we'll have to order a lot of them in order to avoid suspicion." "Oh? How many?" "About ten thousand sir." "Well, at least we'll have spares."

      3D printers open up a whole new world for both good and bad applications. If they aren't thinking about this now, they should start -- because someone else is reading this right now and tapping their fingers together saying "myes, myes my pretties..."

      I don't think this is quite the problem you make it out to be, but it's a perfect angle for the IP protection guys to take... they will be terrified that it will rip the bottom out of their spare parts market (I can't replace the worn out piece of rubber/plastic on my car keys, I have to buy a whole new key assembly for around $300!) but they'll pressure the government to shut it down because it means that little Suzie can order a gun over the internet and the existing laws on gun ownership just won't cut i

      • by jafiwam (310805)

        Little Suzie can go to any one of a number of free online forums to hook up with sellers who can legally sell to her face to face. As long as it doesn't go across state lines, ATF and any feds are not involved. In a lot of states, no paper trail at all is required.

        You are scoring 0 for 2 so far on your gun knowledge. Perhaps you should shut your ignorant ass the fuck up.

    • Okay, what if I submit a design to print a 3D gun

      This problem is not specific to 3D printers. Just ask Sheffield Forgemasters, who famously made an "oil pipe" for Iraq back in 1990. Oddly, the pipe was enormously strong and specified to very fine tolerances. Turns out it wasn't for oil.

  • before the MAFIAA turn their attention to these 3D printing outfits.
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      before the MAFIAA turn their attention to these 3D printing outfits.

      Could one even print a 45 rpm record?

  • > can print a thousand objects in a day,

    >thousand

    Wake me when a 3D printer can output something as simple as a pen clip at 600/minute (which is what you get out of a 30 year old press).

    For rapid prototyping, yes, this kind of stuff is OK, because there is no demo tooling that winds up being production tooling (as is typical, bleh) and actually saves money. But to tout these kinds of numbers as if they're any meaningful amount of production is just crazy.

    Expecting downmods.

    --
    BMO

    • by iphinome (810750)

      Speed is nice but not the goal, lowing the cost of production would be ideal. Cheap machines reasonable cost of material so when you need something you don't need to send out for it. Print a replacement scissor for the broken G key on your laptop. A new button knob or battery cover for your gadget, a zipper foot for your sewing machine, a few more plastic knitting needles, an upholstery attachment for your vacuum cleaner. items that it might be cheap to mass produce but the demand at any given moment is ra

      • by bmo (77928)

        >Speed is nice but not the goal, lowing the cost of production would be ideal.

        Speed is always a goal. Time is money. Cost is amortized over the number of parts you make. Your fixed costs of equipment, power, people, infrastructure, etc, do not go away. The more pieces you can make in a certain amount of time decreases the cost per piece.

        >Why get your cheap plastic crap form china when you'll be able to print it at home for the cost of the plastic, you don't NEED 600 a minute.

        Because a "do everythin

        • Think of a home laser/inkjet printer. Did people say that printers are useless and will cost more to print than printing presses and therefore a home printer is useless?
          • by bmo (77928)

            The cost per page for an inkjet printed document is orders of magnitude more expensive than a page from Joe's Offset Printing Shop.

            You pay for the convenience. It's certainly not cheaper. It's especially cheaper to print with gold leaf than it is to print with inkjet ink from HP. It's cheaper to email your digital photos to a professional developer and get prints than it is to do photo prints at home. Consumer level equipment is expensive and inefficient per unit.

            Everyone is so enamoured of the Star-Tr

            • You are not getting my perspective. Just as people who use printers at home are doing it for convenience and not cost effectiveness, there will be many reasons why you want to print out a physical object at home than buy it (most common use case - it is not available for purchase). I have a good audio system from 15 years back but its tape recorder wheel spoke is broken and I cannot find any replacement. The tape recorder is now fully useless. If only I had a 3D printer (or a neighbourhood shop had one)!
        • by gl4ss (559668)

          well, you brought up the metal parts when someone said it's nice for plastic parts.

          it's fun for custom plastic things. I printed up some cd/dvd stands the other day. and a stand for a GUS I like to keep on display. for that type of thing it's fun. or ass-vases you simply can't buy. of course then there's certain objects that you can't structurally injection mold, plenty of fun pieces are just plastic or the metal parts can be acquired otherwise.

          home printers are fun hobby machines right now - they're money

  • The Forbes article plays a video from some cooking show. With a player with no stop button.

    There are other 3D printing service providers. Autodesk has a list. [autodesk.com] Autodesk itself also does some 3D printing as a sideline. They're more interested in selling the CAD tools for designing parts. Their printing service providers are more oriented towards working parts than decorative objects.

  • Commercial "3D printing" has existed forever, or at least the equivalent ("here's the money, here's the model, make me X number of them"). What technology is used to do it is really quite inconsequential - current 3D printing really doesn't add any value to the process beyond more conventional techniques.

    The attractive feature of actual 3D printing is that people can do it themselves. Buy a bag of nylon, load it into the machine, press out all the little play-figures you want from designs pulled from the

  • Heh, a Klein bottle. Cool.

    I wonder if that was sent to try to trick the software. Inside?! Outside?!?!?! BOOOM!

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