From artists to architects, and from scientists to surgeons, the mass appeal of 3D printing lies in mass customization. Much different from mass production, this type of customization plays a huge role in expanding customer-driven manufacturing at Shapeways, along with promoting incredible innovation, collaboration, and redefining the entire product development process.

Developed in the mid-80s, 3D printing began as a way for engineers to make small prototypes. For decades, it was also quietly embraced behind the scenes by research labs, aerospace organizations like NASA, and a handful of automotive companies with deep pockets who realized the immediate potential for prototyping, making spare parts, and manufacturing jigs and fixtures. As major patents began to run out around 2014, 3D printing was thrust into the consumer spotlight. Spectacular headlines began to take over the press, garnering worldwide attention over a technology that to the average layperson seemed nothing short of magic.

The 3D Printing Industry Continues to Accelerate

For designers and manufacturers, the floodgates were opened. Advances in applications like medicine were some of the most highlighted applications due to transformative medical models, medical devices and implants, and surgical tools leading to life-saving and cutting-edge surgeries. They were joined by companies engineering drones, robotics, embedded electronics, and a long list of others. Recent market research now projects that the global 3D printing market will reach $62.79 billion USD by 2028, with a 21 percent compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2028.

With the advent of expiring licenses which had been held so long, accessibility and affordability were cited as the ongoing reasons for the explosion in 3D printing technology, materials—and captivating innovation. 3D printing at the desktop became much more common, quickly catching on in primary and secondary schools, as well as for college and university labs. Suddenly 3D printers were in common use at the professional level in design firms, as well as architectural offices and medical research labs.

Industrial Parts Still Require Industrial 3D Printing Hardware

Shapeways factory

Desktop and professional-grade 3D printers can be purchased painlessly, but that is often where the ease ends as the technology is not always as simple as it sounds or looks. Many of the cheaper models may draw in consumers with hype, including kits that could cost less than a typical grocery shopping bill, but often present challenges for operators without significant tinkering or engineering experience. While much can go right, and it is very exciting, much can go wrong too, including the level of quality in manufacturing for prototypes and parts.

Harkening back to Ken Olson, co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), who famously said “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home,” parallel contradictions may certainly prove to be true within the 3D printing industry. Desktop units may continue to become more user-friendly and higher in quality; however, they cannot take the place of their industrial counterparts in most cases, which is why so many businesses reach out to Shapeways for 3D printing—rather than taking on challenges such as the following:

  • The expense of purchasing expensive equipment, along with making room for such items, and providing ventilation too.
  • Hiring staff knowledgeable about 3D printing or instituting training programs.
  • Dealing with the limits of non-industrial equipment.
  • Handling scalability issues—especially trying to use desktop printers meant for small production jobs when parts need to be 3D printed in larger quantities.

From a Prototyping Tool to Production of End-Use Parts

With so many modern professionals worldwide realizing the truly infinite potential in 3D printing for new products, and the ability to make complex geometries like never before, the collective whole has continued to experiment and push the limits. As a result, newer and more industrial hardware and materials continue to emerge, along with the ability to go far beyond prototyping, and onward to the production of customized, quality parts meant for long-term functionality and high performance.For example, technology like Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) at Shapeways allows the transition from low-batch volume to much higher production levels with machines that can 3D print thousands of end-use parts at once.

bulk printed parts

With durable, versatile materials like Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic], Shapeways manufactures many different types of prototypes and end-use parts, ranging from consumer goods to jewelry to production parts built for those applications. With over 90 different materials and finishes to choose from, customers like beer-brewers Tilt and jewelry designers Groen and Boothman work with Shapeways to manufacture functional, high-performance parts, and luxury keepsakes for their customers.

3D Printing Services Make Manufacturing Much Easier

Although it is not unheard of, most businesses do not have the time to open up their own 3D printing factories, nor the desire to do so as they are busy focusing on their own core specialties. Expense is also a huge factor, and for many businesses, spending precious capital in the wide variety of industrial hardware, software, and human resources required for additive manufacturing may not be a sound investment. 

Shapeways offers the full range of additive manufacturing solutions, including a complete array of manufacturing capabilities to ensure seamless production of quality parts.  The services are reinforced by a global network of manufacturing partners to make custom solutions possible. Production truly spans from end to end too, beginning when a customer creates an account or speaks with a Shapeways business development manager, and continues with:

  • Instant price quotes
  • Automated printability checks
  • Expert support on bulk and custom printing
  • Comprehensive quality management 
  • On-demand production to include assembly and direct-to-customer fulfillment with customized packaging

Shapeways acts as a reliable manufacturing partner to fulfill requirements in additive manufacturing, and many businesses have chosen to work with Shapeways because they seek a streamlined end-to-end production process. As scaling demands intensify, Shapeways also provides customers with access to traditional manufacturing offerings, including injection molding, urethane casting services, and more.

About Shapeways

Contact Shapeways now to enjoy the benefits of advanced technology and materials for manufacturing creations with accuracy, complex detail, and no minimum or limits in terms of mass customization or single part orders. Shapeways has worked with over 1 million customers in 160 countries to make over 20 million parts! Read about case studies, find out more about Shapeways solutions, and get instant quotes here.