3D printing technology has been growing and developing at an exponential rate. Scientists have been able to print a range of items that can dramatically improve human life, ranging from organ tissues to rocket engines.
Here in Boston, a number of specialty shops have opened up, exposing customers to the power of the 3D printer. Yet, one major obstacle stands in the way of accessible 3D printing for everyone, namely, the cost of actually owning a printer. But one new website is overcoming that obstacle in a major way.
Shapeways is an online marketplace and community that allows users to shop for products, upload their own designs, and open their own businesses. “We have two factories, allowing people to access 3D-printing in an approachable way,” explained Lauren Slowik, Designer Evangelist-Education at Shapeways.
Shapeways has three options for visitors to their website: Shop, Design, and Sell. Users can purchase a variety of 3D-printed products ranging from accessories like bow ties and cufflinks to ThrouserClamps, which are clips that allow bicyclists to prevent their pants from getting dirty or caught in the chain. Users can also upload their own 3D designs, which the website will print for them. Additionally, members can open their own accounts on the website and sell their 3D designs. Slowik says the website is “like eBay for 3D printing.”
You might be asking yourself, “what’s so special about getting something 3D printed?”
Slowik explains that using 3D printers allows people to create highly personalized and customizable products. Most of the items on their website are not things you can just buy in stores.
If the idea of submitting your own 3D design scares you like it scares me, there is no need to fret. Shapeways employs a number of designers who can help users make their ideas come to 3D life.
Now, if searching through products like flip-flop hangers and chopstick holders does not make you believe in the impressive capabilities of 3D-printing, a design by Somerville-based designers Nervous System might do the trick. Shapeways was able to help the designers 3D-print a dress that required no assembly. The dress is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
Although it might be a while until we all have 3D printers in our homes, Shapeways is making the accessibility of 3D printing a reality for the average consumer. I might not be ready to start designing my own products, but their website shows you the vast ways in which 3D printing can make life simpler and easier, ranging from practical items that can wind your iPhone charger cables or keep your headphones in place to items that are just fun like foosball iPhone cases or Viking finger hats. 3D printing is clearly the way of the future and websites like Shapeways are making that future a closer reality for many.