Reflections of My Summer 2012 Internship at Shapeways

By Julian Kollataj, our Production Planning Summer Intern in the Eindhoven office, who returned to Arcada University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, Finland, where he’s studying Plastics Engineering.

Who’s moved my manufacturing?

So much has happened over the past three months, that I thought I’d like to share with you, the Shapeways Community, some reflections of my internship at Shapeways before those memories start losing their freshness.

I was wondering where to begin this blog. But then it clicked: first, I was in The Netherlands, the land of Gouda, Edam, and Leyden – and famous for their windmills, dikes, clogs, and bicycles! I’ve now added 3D Printing to this list of associations, because Shapeways is founded there, of course! Then, the thought of cheese led me to the book and parable about change, Who Moved My Cheese? The book came to mind because of the changes that have gone on within Shapeways and how they are positively affecting the manufacturing and consumer industry. It also came to mind because of the growth which I’ve had as well. (Hmm, thinking about cheese, I was wondering if they can do 3D printing in chocolate, what about cheese? And look what I found – printed cheese!).

So, the internship started at the end of May. I moved temporarily from Helsinki, Finland (currently the World Design Capital 2012), where I’m studying Plastics Engineering and coaching tennis, to join the Shapeways Production Planning Team. Before arriving, I had some ideas of what to expect, but nothing quite like what I was going to experience. In less than three months, I saw Shapeways grow with: more people joining the company; the launch of the new look and feel; a few new 3D printers installed to add greater capacity; and, the biggest change yet was the migration to a completely new software infrastructure for Shapeways’ employees, partners, and you, the community members. I even got to be a part of celebrating Shapeways turning four years old, which was loads of fun!

While all of this was happening, I grew too: in understanding and
having a deeper sense of appreciation for the behind-the-scenes
processes of what it takes to get your idea (or rather, an STL file) to
your doorstep; seeing all those amazing models come through and being
inspired to take up more intricate 3D modelling myself; and, what I
thought most valuable, getting a feel for what it means to be a part of
such a dynamic group of motivated people coming together at a start-up
company. As a side note, my foosball skills improved considerably thanks
to the tough competition, though unfortunately I never made a
‘klinker,’ but did get to crawl (under the table after losing 10-0),
twice!

During May, I finished a course in Production Economics in
my degree, where we investigated various factories using injection- and
blow-molding. Looking back on my experience at Shapeways, it has been an
eye-opener to just a fraction of the potential of 3D printing, and I
see just how limiting traditional manufacturing really is! After having a
chance to be a part of Shapeways, it’s helped shift the way I think
about the manufacturing and design of plastics and other materials. Over the
next five to ten years, it will be really interesting and exciting to see just
how 3D printing evolves!

With the combination of Web 2.0,
accessible 3D modelling software, and 3D printing, I think it’s great
that Shapeways is speeding up the growth of ‘distributed innovation and
inspiration’ so that new product development is becoming further decentralised – no longer do you have to be part of an established
company in order to start creating new products due to large initial
costs. Personally, I really like this, as I want to be entrepreneurial
in the design and materials application environment. I can now start
growing ‘organically’ with my ideas, designs, and future technical
know-how, and develop a feel for the market, without much risk. This
definitely would make my learning experience much more enjoyable!

Bringing Individuals Closer to Manufacturing

The
most impressionable part of the internship was the way it changed my
views of 3D printing as becoming a widely-used
manufacturing method. Thanks to all of the latest technology platforms
of hardware, software, and the Internet, converging, for me, it begged
the question: What does 3D printing mean for individuals like us, when
it comes to New Product Development (NPD), or bringing a new product to
market?

As a start, let’s take the traditional plastics
manufacturer as an example. This is a company that makes homogeneous
plastic products using injection-molding. In the illustration below,
there’s a New Product Development Team working together with the
Industrial Design Team in the first four phases, before a final decision
is made on what one specific product will go to market. This is then
passed on to the Production Team where they work with the Marketing Team
to launch the new product. The problem with this process is that
there’s no real integration between the teams regarding valuable input
and considerations before the product is launched, so the NPD process is
quite poorly-integrated.

Figure 1: Poorly-Integrated New Product Development process, Balance Inc.

However,
in Figure 2 below, you can see a traditional manufacturer evolve to
having teams working much closer together throughout the various phases
of developing and launching a single new product. I would think that
this integration leads to better collaboration, innovation, creativity,
productivity, timing, delivery, costs, profits, and return on
investments.

Figure 2: Integrated New Product Development, Balance Inc.

If
you are in the manufacturing environment, the general issues are timing, opportunity, and speed of
adapting – you need to be quick enough to respond to opportunities
opening up within a timely manner, otherwise you will lose out.

In
traditional manufacturing, changes to products and designs means
changes have to also be made to the tools, such as molds and dies. Due
to the difficulty of achieving high quality molds and dies, they can
take time to produce, and are costly if their profitability and return
on investment are not achieved. The other thing to consider is that to
be a part of this NPD process, you also have to be part of a company
that has the resources to produce the product you want to create. If
you’re not part of that ‘club,’ your chances to produce something
according to you have been quite limited, at least up until now. This is
where I see 3D printing playing its role.

If
‘decentralised,’ integrated NPD is the goal for us as individuals, in
order to receive the benefits I mentioned, I think the challenging part
would be to integrate ourselves better with Shapeways production planning, and leveraging the Shapeways website and marketing channels to promote our products and shops.

In other words, what is the future of the ‘Personalised Product Development’ process?

Currently, you get inspired, design an idea, make it for yourself, and then bring it to market. However, the more feedback you get from other users and the Shapeways production team, or the more integrated designer, manufacturer, and customer become, the better your product will be.

The way I could see it, is that by integrating more with Shapeways, it seems like it is not just RM, as in Rapid Manufacturing, that is growing, but could be more like RM, as in Relationship Manufacturing. This integrated relationship could work for individuals, but also for the established regular sellers.

To finish off, I would like to ask: How can we create a more integrated personalised product development process?

Thank you for reading my post! All the best with your creations

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