3D Printing

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words Anna Bates

3D Printing has gone mainstream with Philips Electronics' online service Shapeways. The service allows anyone with access to 3D software to upload a rendering onto the site, press send, and receive the plastic 3D version ten days later in the post.

Shapeways also acts as a community group where people can share, comment on, and buy each other's designs - cutting out the manufacturing and retailing middlemen. At present, the 3D "print-outs" come in four different plastics (metal will soon be available), and cost an average of between $50 and $100. Shapeways makes sure the product can be successfully printed before going ahead.

But for the majority of users without 3D software (Shapeways uses STL, Collada and X3D file formats), Philips has designed a Creator application that can be used to customise existing products on the site. At present, all that's available is a tea light holder decorated with a spiral of words that can be personalised, but the company aims to develop a large number of templates next year with more scope for manipulation.

"3D software is complex, and not everyone can use it," says Shapeways general manager Peter Weijmarshausen. "The templates will offer consumers more freedom without the complexities."

Like Ponoko (which we tried out on iconeye.com in July), Shapeways will make it possible for designers to mass-produce their products, but Weijmarshausen thinks the service could be most useful for making "cogs and gears" - so broken machinery will no longer need to be discarded because a part is out of production.

The site is still in development but went live in August, and icon was one of the first to try out the service. Follow the making of our "running man" logo at www.iconeye.com.

www.shapeways.com

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