Shapeways CEO Calls Again for 3D Printing Revolution in Manufacturing

Xconomy New York — 

At this afternoon’s Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo held in New York, Shapeways CEO and co-founder Peter Weijmarshausen will give a keynote address on the potential he sees in the long-promised age of digital manufacturing—which, frankly, still has a ways to go before it takes hold with the masses.

Shapeways, based in New York, produces 3D-printed goods from designs featured on an online marketplace, through an on-demand service for manufacturing and shipping when a purchase is made.

Naturally, Weijmarshausen is a frequent advocate for the role 3D printing could play in changing the way industry produces items, and in today’s speech he will talk up the benefits he sees in such a trend. He spoke with Xconomy a bit in advance about his keynote and the road ahead for Shapeways.

Xconomy: What will you discuss this afternoon at the conference?

Peter Weijmarshausen: There’s a question I hear quite a few times—“Is 3D printing the next industrial revolution or not?” What we humans have done is move from craftsmen to mass manufacturing, and society is built around mass manufacturing with big companies needed to do all the research, product development, sourcing, build factories, and put products in people’s hands.

I strongly believe 3D printing will change some of that thinking quite substantially.

Shapeways has now been in business for nine years. We’ve run our service for eight-and-a-half years. We believe 3D printing has a massive impact on manufacturing, but how much has it had and what is yet to come? If we’re honest, we’ve had very limited impact on the day-to-day lives of most people.

There’s a small group of people using 3D printing to make their hobbies more compelling, making beautiful jewelry, and cool gadgets. For most people, 3D printing hasn’t had an impact yet. I want to explain the key drivers of adoption—the technology becoming more mature and easier to use, the materials getting better, and the prices becoming more affordable.

We’re at the eve of a new disruption; 3D printing will revolutionize the way we think about manufacturing.

X: That’s been a long-running promise of 3D printing that has yet to materialize; have there been any changes of late to push this closer to reality?

PW: There’s been a lot of attention on desktop 3D printers; they could be in homes, in schools, or in companies. That is what I am hearing, but it’s happening much more with businesses than with individual consumers.

And what happened with industrial 3D printers? This is where the rate of innovation has been most disappointing because most of the machines that were in use eight years ago are still considered to be state of the art.

Where I think massive change is coming from a technology perspective is there. HP has announced, and is launching this year, their new 3D printer that does what everybody wants. It’s going to make 3D printing faster, a lot more affordable, and start to deliver quality and attributes people have been asking for. Until now, it has been near-impossible to print in full color plastic. A 3D printer from HP will be able to do that. It will be able to print conductive pathways.

If you ask our community of users what is needed, it’s exactly that combination—higher quality, full color, better prices, and quicker turnaround. And HP is not the only one. I see it in big and small companies where the industrial machines are starting to become better.

You have Desktop Metal, from the Boston area, who has announced they’re working on a new metal machine that will come out in the next 12 to 18 months, which is going to revolutionize what we think about metal. There’s Carbon3D and Formlabs among startups working on much better plastic printing. It’s rumored that Canon is coming out with a 3D printer.

The fact we see huge corporations with huge budgets and resources starting to take industrial 3D printing very seriously means that the qualities and capabilities of those machines will start to rapidly evolve, which is exactly what the industry needs.

We also see a lot of money pouring into new startups, which is something I also asked the investment community to do, into companies like Carbon3D, Desktop Metal, and Formlabs. We see big companies and small companies starting to tackle the technology challenges the industry faces. As a result, the end user will get much better products exactly as they want them.

X: What is happening with Shapeways and this new material you just introduced?

PW: One of the things we have seen happening for years now is people really love to make miniatures. Think about characters for board games, accessories for model train setups, and collectibles for war games. Those miniatures are small, but they want to be as detailed as possible.

Think about a little plane the size of a quarter or little train models not much bigger than that—the more detail the better.

We’ve been offering a high-detail plastic already, but this new version we’ve introduced is even higher detail, higher quality, and we’ve been able to lower the price substantially, by 20 percent. We will release new materials almost on a monthly basis.