Category Archives: 3D Printing

Bring Your Designs to Life with the ‘littleBits Bring Your 3D Prints to Life Contest’

Shapeways has teamed up with littleBits to challenge you to make your designs move with the ‘littleBits Bring Your 3D Prints to Life Contest’, we want to see what you will make when you can add modular electronics to your 3D prints.

ArmyWhole_LR

3D printing is great for making unique items to exactly meet your needs, but what better way to take your ideas one step further and add motion, light, sound, or even programming with littleBits modular electronics.  littleBits create powerful but easy-to-use electronic components that snap together with magnets, so there is no need for soldering, wiring or programming (unless you want to). That means you can prototype with electronics and don’t need an engineering degree to do so.

The Challenge:

Make a design that combines 3D printed Nylon and littleBits to make a 3D printed creation that comes to life using the littleBits. We chose Shapeways Nylon because you can make complex, interlocking parts in a single print, incorporate a living hinge, all with the precision to make compress fit, or threaded connectors.

Add littleBits to your 3D prints and control them using a mechanical input, like a button, or use a sensor to control with just a gesture or sound. We challenge you to use the following littleBits modules but you can incorporate any littleBits modules that you like.

To get you started, the littleBits team has released the STL and STEP files of these base components for you to download and import them into your 3D modeling software of choice and modify you design to fit these components. Download littleBits 3D files here.

Take a look at the littleBits project gallery for inspiration, where you can see everything from a Remote Control Car to a Flying Dragon or a Keytar with 3d printed knobs. Also find custom 3d-printed accessories designed for mounting littleBits in projects.

large_filled_IMG_9902

 

The Remote Control Facetime Car made with 3D printed components.

large_IMG_8182LR

The Keytar uses 3D printed knobs to make the sounds more ergonomic and awesome.

large_filled_CloseUp_1

Run Horse Run uses your voice to make the horses, run.

The Submission

  • Upload your design that incorporates at least two (2) Little Bits modules to Shapeways with the tag LittleBits
  • Your design must be printable in Shapeways Nylon Selective Laser Sintering (WSF) with a maximum material volume of 300cm3.
  • Your submission can include one or multiple parts, (please indicate that an upload is “1 of 3″ or similar so that we can better understand your design.
  • Include a description of your design, the function and proposed movement.
  • BONUS POINTS: For a rendered animation or video of the design in action

The Prize

  • littleBits Pro Library (over $4,900 value)
  • 3D Printing Credit at Shapeways to the value of $500
  • The top 3 designs will have their design 3D printed by Shapeways

Continue reading


 

3D Print in Nylon with Selective Laser Sintering – Part 1

It’s now been almost six years since we started offering White Strong and Flexible (WSF) to you, our community and it’s a good time to share what we have learned.

So, this is the first of a series of three blog-posts that I am writing about Strong and Flexible 3D-printing. Please share your feedback by commenting, we would love to learn your thoughts and ideas!

First and foremost we are extremely happy to see the result of what you have made with WSF and later the color variants (together called Strong and Flexible Plastic). Over the last six years we have printed more than 2.5 million parts in Strong and Flexible. These part range from jewelry to cases for the iPhone, quad-copter accessories (see picture), to the fabulous Animaris Geneticus Parvus (see picture), lighting shades and more.  White Strong and Flexible Plastic and the colors have been and are still by far the most popular material on Shapeways.

Animaris Geneticus Parvus

3D print of Animaris Geneticus Parvus or Strandbeest

DJI Phantom accessories

3D printed DJI Phantom accessories

Let me share what it means to make something in Strong and Flexible Plastic. The current system on Shapeways is based on files. After you buy 1 or more copies of a product represented in a file, the work for us starts.

First, for new products, we have to check whether the products in the file are printable. Are the printers capable of producing the details? Are the products strong enough? Are the walls thick enough? Checking each new file is done by software and by hand to make sure you get what you want. If we believe we cannot print something, our team makes a clear report about the issues, including screenshots. As you can imagine this takes quite a bit of time. The checking and rejection process has become quite a challenge, more about this in the post next week!

After checking we plan the files into the tray of the machine. Depending on the size of the machine, each tray can hold hundreds and sometimes thousands of products. If the files hold multiple parts, here’s where it becomes hard. We sometimes need to increase separation of the parts (to prevent them to melt or fuse together) or reorient or simply separate them to optimize maximum tray fill. As we put more parts in a single tray, it increases the efficiency of the print run and in turn enables us to offer reasonable prices.

Now that we have planned the tray the file containing all parts for the print, called a slice file, is sent to one of our big SLS printers (picture below shows one of our massive EOS P7s). One printing run typically takes 24 hours, but our big P7 machines can print for up to 3 days! When the printing is done we quickly remove the full tray to let it cool. Cooling takes as much time as printing.

EOS P7 SLS printer in Shapeways factory at LIC

EOS P7 in our factory at LIC

After the tray is cooled down to room temperature, we retrieve the parts from the tray, which is now filled with nylon powder and parts. Digging the parts out of the powder one by one is actually a super fun process. You never know what you are going to find! The hardest to find are the very small parts, since distinguishing them from little plastic lumps is challenging. At one time someone tried to print parts as small as 1x1x1 mm!!

Now we need to remove the excess powder from each part, which is done with compressed air. Then we sort all parts. Some will be ready to go to our packing stations and be shipped, while others need post production. We either polish (see pic below of our polisher), or polish and dye the parts. After each step we need to sort again, since polishing and dying puts all parts together in batches again. So we spend a lot of time sorting parts and luckily we have gotten quite good at it ensuring everyone of you, our customers, get the right parts with the right finish. Files holding multiple parts are hard to sort. Our systems use the file as the unit and if it contains multiple parts its hard to recognize and to make sure we have all parts. Some files hold over 100 parts and even counting them takes a lot of time!

Shapeways Polisher in LIC

One of our big polishers at our LIC factory

We can typically do all the above steps in less than four days, which is quite miraculous given the amount of time the printing itself takes. Once all of these steps are complete, the products are ready to ship and are collected in the distribution wall of bins (see picture below). When the order is completed, our distribution team packs them up and sends them to you our customers to enjoy.

Shapeways Distribution Area wall of bins

Our distribution area with the bins holding parts ready to ship

Next week I’ll spend time diving a bit deeper in the specific challenges we face and how they influence the cost of 3D printing in nylon using Selective Laser Sintering.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, or make suggestions for the deeper dive next week!

all the best,
Pete / CEO Shapeways


 

Hero Forge, Making Custom 3D Printed Miniatures Easy

Making custom 3D Printed tabletop gaming miniatures is about to get easier with Hero Forge App, and the Shapeways 3D Printing API.  The team at Hero Forge have raised support with a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign to create an app to make custom 3D printed figurines for table top gaming.

Following is the story of how the project came about, why they chose to use Shapeways 3D printing, and how this is a perfect case study, for helping people get exactly what they want with a customization app, and on demand 3D printing at Shapeways.

HERO FORGE ORIGIN STORY

About seven months ago, with bated breath and well-bitten nails, we at Hero Forge launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign  proposing a new application of 3D printing: customizable tabletop miniatures. The idea was simple: using a WebGL-based app akin to a videogame character creator, users would be able to build a character from a library of parts, poses, and features, then get it 3D printed.

Hero Forge - Grid

The idea for Hero Forge actually came about when we went looking for a service like it, hoping to use it as customers. We’d seen slick WebGL-based apps and had seen all kinds of cool Maker Apps using Shapeways Developer API. We assumed something like Hero Forge would already exist. As it turned out, all the pieces were there but the service itself wasn’t. We decided to make it ourselves.

Going to Kickstarter for funding was a no-brainer. Kickstarter has an incredibly passionate gaming community that’s been jumpstarting role-playing and miniatures projects for years. We really couldn’t have predicted just how amazingly supportive our backers would be, though. We ended up hitting our initial goal within the first three days of our campaign then went on to unlock nine stretch goals. It was exciting to say the least.

WHY IS CUSTOMIZATION IMPORTANT?

There miniatures can mean a lot to tabletop gamers. A player might spend years playing as a single character, and having a mini that really matches their vision is a powerful thing. Unfortunately, finding a miniature that really captures one’s character can be difficult. Nearly all tabletop fans know the frustration of combing through poorly-stocked shelves or browsing low-resolution image galleries looking for just the right combination of features and equipment.

Hero Forge - Closeup 1

We have absolutely amazing team working on the tech, UI, and building a library of weapons, armor, poses, faces, and more. They’re making the building blocks that users will be able to play with, combine, and rearrange until they get something that is legitimately theirs. We want to offer a whole new level of parity between the character in their imagination and the miniature in front of them.

HOW IS 3D PRINTING FACILITATING THIS?

It’s great to have reached a point where 3D printing can do more than prototyping. We’ve gotten to a place where it can produce polished, finished products. There’s no doubt that 3D printing is an integral component of our service. No other manufacturing method would allow for us to produce one-off figures in a cost effective way. Using the Shapeways API provides other huge advantages, too. As a start-up, being able to let an established, proven name handle both manufacturing and shipping is a godsend. It lets us focus on what we really want to be focused on: building an amazing service and designing cool great arms, armor, and characters.

There’s a lot of freedom and flexibility of material offerings, too. We’re taking advantage of that flexibility, offering larger-scale statuettes in stronger, cheaper materials and higher detail, smoother materials for users who want more fidelity in their miniature prints. And in the future, if new materials hit the scenes, adding them to our offerings will be easy.

SONY DSC

At the moment, we’re focused on building an incredible service, and the Shapeways API and manufacturing team are proving to be amazing folks to have on our side. We’ve still got our sights set on launching before the year is out. We really can’t wait to see what people create with what we’re building.

Hero Forge - Group Shot

–Joshua Bennett, Co-Founder of Hero Forge

Photo Credit: MDK Photography (MartinDK108@gmail.com)


 

The 3D Printshow Global Awards – Vote for Shapeways

The 3D Printshow Global Awards acknowledge inspirational work that has helped develop and elevate the art of additive manufacture, as well as those businesses that have risen to the challenges of the marketplace, flourishing in what is a highly competitive industry.

This year, we at Shapeways are thrilled to be nominated for two categories for the 3D Printshow Global Awards: Brand of the Year and Best Online/App Based Service.

London 3DPrintshow

 

To vote, all you need is your name and your email – just click on the awards:

SHAPEWAYS

SHAPEWAYS--WALL-THICKNESS-FIXING-

Thank you for all your support and stay tuned for our London Meetup and events in September!

For those of you who will be in London, we look forward to seeing you at the party on Thursday 4th September, you can get tickets here.

 


 

An Invite to Submit Your Designs to SuperFanArt

Shapeways is super excited to be working with Hasbro to help bring more 3D printed awesomeness to the masses via SuperFanArt.  The first wave of the groundbreaking Intellectual Property and 3D Printing partnership was a huge success, and now we are ready for you to help take it to the next level.  Following is an open letter inviting the Shapeways community to participate.

hasbro superfan art brands

As you may have heard, Hasbro and Shapeways are working together to encourage artists to create and sell 3D designs based on Hasbro’s iconic brands. Our July launch of SuperFanArt.com featured five artists and their My Little Pony-based designs. We’ve generated substantial press and attention for the artists, Shapeways and Hasbro with our story of a major entertainment company empowering fans to engage with their brands. Given this early success, we want to expand this opportunity to include more artists, more Hasbro brands and more 3D printed awesomeness.
This letter is an invitation for you to become part of SuperFanArt and the broader Hasbro and Shapeways communities, so we can help you promote and sell your designs to other fans. If you have a passion to develop 3D-printable art based on any of the following brands, we’d like to hear from you:
Dragonvale
• Dungeons & Dragons
• G.I. Joe
• Monopoly
• My Little Pony
• Scrabble (to be sold in US and Canada only)
• Transformers
Get your designs ready and visit SuperFanArt.com on August 22 for instructions on how to upload your work for promotion and sale. We hope you’ll join us in expanding the power of 3D printing by becoming a part of this exciting movement!
Your friends at Hasbro & Shapeways.

 

Jewelry and Science: Using 3D printed jewelry to spread science awareness

by Idoya Lahortiga and Luk Cox of somersault18:24 and Shapeways Crew members

3D printing is a disruptive technology, it allows you to spread awareness about almost anything, including science. We’ll show you how we do it in this field, because that is our area of expertise, but it holds true for every other industry you’re in.

Awareness starts at knowing something exists and ranges all the way up to full comprehension. It is a funnel. The more people will be aware, the more will end up understanding the subject matter deeply.

Astrocyte pendant by somersault18:24

Astrocyte pendant by somersault18:24

Let’s take the internet as an example. It is something we’re all aware of, otherwise we couldn’t even read this blog post, but a few of us truly understand the fine details of this technology, how it really works. This is the awareness funnel at work.

Nevertheless we all understand the importance of the internet, no matter where you are in the funnel. This underlines the necessity to spread awareness about things you care about. We can only value things if we are aware about them.

You can make people aware of things by integrating it in their daily lives. If the technology of the internet would have stayed in the military environment, where it was invented, not many of us would have been using the internet today, we simple wouldn’t be aware of it.

Science is something we’re all aware of, but the funnel narrows very fast. Everybody knows it exists, but for most people it stops there. It doesn’t penetrate into our daily lives. The slope is too steep.

As a consequence science has an image problem. Science is often seen as boring, too difficult, for a selected few, far away from our own world. But the truth is that is fascinating, beautiful and closer to our hearts than we might realize. Moreover if we could adopt a scientific mindset and think following the scientific method of experimenting and testing, we could thrive in many other aspects of our life.

Phylogenetic Tree pendant by somersault18:24

Phylogenetic Tree pendant by somersault18:24

At somersault18:24 we care very much about this. We are scientists for as long as we can remember and want to give science the attention it deserves. For obvious reasons we adopt to the scientific method and go step by step. A key step in this process was the implementation of 3D printing of science-inspired jewelry.

We decided to start spreading awareness via scientist like ourselves. But instead of motivating them to talk about their passion and spread the word, we turned things around. What if we could motivate laymen to engage with scientists and show interest in the first place, wouldn’t that work much better?

But how? That is when 3D printing of science-inspired jewelry comes into play. Everybody wears jewelry, even scientists. We wear it to look nice and beautiful, we wear it for ourselves to be different and unique. We wear it to get noticed. BANG! or “Eureka!” as you wish. What if we could give dedicated scientists jewelry and accessories symbolizing their passion? Their friends will notice it and possibly comment on it or ask what it is. Now the scientist has the perfect entry to engage more people into this fascinating world.

But we had a problem, one that was not so easy to overcome. How could we make the jewelry with no expertise nor skills in jewelry manufacturing whatsoever? 3D printing was the solution. It is rather simple for everyone to build computer generated designs these days. Personally we use Blender, a free open source 3D modeling package. It takes a bit of practice to get the hold of it, but certainly worth the effort.

Neuron pendant by somersault18:24

Neuron pendant by somersault18:24

The possibilities are endless. There is so many beauty in science that is often unexplored. Take for example this neuron pendant. We have billions of neurons in our own body, but if you’re not a scientist familiar with the subject, you were not able to appreciate its beauty… until now.

This type of jewelry certainly also has its place in the fundraising to combat diseases. We believe that it is a very efficient method to spread awareness about these topics too.

So, if you have a passion, a cause or you are on a mission to spread awareness. Think about the fascinating possibilities of 3D printing next time.

How did you create your “Eureka!” moment?


 

New Cheaper Shipping Option for 3D Prints in Australia & New Zealand

Aussies and Kiwis rejoice, we now have a cheaper shipping option for your 3D prints from Shapeways. Whether you are in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, even Hobart, (also Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) Shapeways can now offer your 3D printing a even cheaper now we can ship to you via USPS.

Map_of_Australia_and_New_Zealand

The USPS rate will start at $14.99 which I am told is a 25% reduction on our UPS option for Australia and New Zealand.

Australia and New Zealand have been really early adopters of 3D printing, some of the most prolific architects using 3D printing for maquettes of their constructions and landscaping are working out of New Zealand.  The model train community in Sydney and Brisbane 3D print scale models of the Australian rail system.  Universities in South Australia and Melbourne such as RMIT have invested huge amounts of resources to ensure Australian students are at the absolute forefront in using 3D printing for their school projects.

Now all Aussies and New Zealanders can get their 3D prints a little cheaper, maybe even a little faster.


 

Shapeways “Love in 3D” Wedding Contest Winner!

A huge thanks to each and every one of you who entered the Shapeways “Love in 3D” Wedding Contest. We were so excited to look through all the Pinterest boards, read your unique love stories, and be even more inspired than ever before.

Of course, we could only choose one winner, and we believe a congratulations is in order for Bastiaan Ekeler! Not only did you create one beautiful Pinterest board, but your story already started with 3D printing! We were also touched by your desire to create unique, personal gifts for your fiancé to keep your relationship fresh and fun.

wedding-contest-winner

 

Continue reading


 

Hasbro & Shapeways Enable 3D Printing Fan Art with SuperFanArt

For the first time, a global brand will open up its intellectual property to fan designed products using Shapeways 3D printing. We are partnering with Hasbro to launch SuperFanArt, enabling fans to 3D print and sell their own creations based on Hasbro owned content. SuperFanArt, which will debut at Comic-Con San Diego 2014, grants the passionate and talented Hasbro fan base from the Shapeways community a license to create exciting new art and product offerings. The first license is granted to a select number of 3D artists including Brandon Lee Johnson, Paul Philbin, Christophe Vidal, Melinda Rose, and Brian Harris to create artwork based on My Little Pony.

Shapeways & Hasbro 3D Print

We are thrilled to work with Hasbro to be the very first entertainment brand to open up their intellectual property to their dedicated fans to legally create tangible, 3D printed products. This partnership is perfectly aligned with our mission to enable the Shapeways creative community to make exactly what they want, for themselves, to share and sell to others.

superfanart launch Shapeways & Hasbro

For the initial launch at Comic-Con 2014, we will start with the incredibly popular My Little Pony series, to allow fans around the world to create and sell unique, 3D printed My Little Pony figurines. This will dramatically expand the range of products available from the few currently being mass produced by Hasbro, to potentially include the over 900 ponies identified and named by the fans. Many of these designs have been created by a passionate group of fans from the Brony community (for the uninitiated, a Brony is a Bro who likes Ponies so Bro + Pony – P = Brony (welcome to the herd)).  Once we have filled our 3D printers with community designed ponies, we will continue to work with Hasbro and the Shapeways community to enable more Hasbro branded content to be created, 3D printed and sold.

This is a major step forward in realizing the creative potential of 3D printing, to make products on demand that might otherwise never make it into people’s hands. Hasbro has been incredibly forward thinking and open minded, to realize that the existing unmet demand within their fan base can be satisfied with the help of those very same fans. We expect to see many more partnerships like this, to enable user generated content to be 3D printed based on existing intellectual property, with fair attribution and compensation for all parties involved. We’ve seen this model work successfully in the digital realm, and we’re thrilled to be leading the charge in the physical.

Take a look at the SuperFanArt site to learn more, and meet some of the Shapeways community members who are promoting their designs in partnership with Hasbro and Shapeways. Also check out the New York Times article for insight into why the Hasbro team approached Shapeways to be a partner to help them enter the world of 3D printing, thanks mainly to the Bronies in the Shapeways community.

A solid brohoof to all the bronies who helped make this happen.

 

 


 

Show Us Your Elasto Plastic 3D Prints

We introduced Elasto Plastic as our first 3D Printing maker material back in May last year so that the Shapeways community could have access to a impact resistant, flexible 3D printing material.  The team at the factory in Eindhoven get to see the amazing products you design with this unique material but because it is a Maker Material, and not available for sale as a product on Shapeways, many of us do not get to see and be inspired by your designs.

flexible 3D print material on Shapeways

We would love to see your Elasto Plastic designs shared in the It Arrived forum so that we can all see the range of products you are designing and get inspiration to explore the material in different ways.  We are looking forward to seeing photos of your designs on the Shapeways forums soon.


 

From prototype to product: Creating glowing jewelry with 3D printing

Christopher Boynton is a co-founder of Fire & Bone and a self-taught 3D modeler and designer with a passion for product design. He has been using Shapeways to prototype and create a new line of luminescent, 3D printed jewelry called L Ī T. I caught him about his design process, how he moves from inspiration to prototype to product, how 3D printing is powering the future of jewelry design and tips for running a succesful crowd funding campaign for your product. 

no41

Tell me a little bit about your background – who are you and what do you make?

I’m one of three co-founders of a small company called Fire & Bone that makes miniature animal skull replicas, to wear or collect, using 3D scanning, 3D printing, and lost wax casting in silver and bronze. We launched our first collection in a very successful Kickstarter campaign last December. I’m also a product designer and the creator of L Ī T (I pronounce it “light” on account of the macron), which is a line of 3D printed luminescent (glow-in-the-dark) jewelry that I launched in late June 2014 on Kickstarter.

What inspired you to create luminescent jewelry?

As a kid, getting a glow-stick was always a special treat and I’ve always been fascinated by the quality and color of light they give off. But L Ī T really is a study in lighting design and that’s how I approached it. Shapeways strong and flexible nylong plastic has a wonderful way of interacting with light so it was the perfect material to work with and, 3D printing and modeling made it easy to play with different forms and different ways of manipulating that little bit of neon light. I’m working on several full-scale lighting design projects right now so don’t be surprised if you see a giant descendant of L Ī T with an LED tube instead of a glow-stick in the future.

How did you learn to 3D model?

I taught myself the basics in Sketchup and now I work primarily in Rhino with a little Zbrush thrown in.

CB_2

How did you discover 3D printing for jewelry design?

Jason Bakutis, one of the co-founders of Fire & Bone, is a sculptor and jewelry designer and he was an early adopter of 3D printing for jewelry design. A few years ago, he showed me a few of his pieces that were produced using 3D printing and lights started going off in my head. The first piece of 3D printed jewelry I made was done in Shapeways sterling silver.

What is your design and iteration process like?

I usually use pencil sketches early on just to crack an idea and figure out how to approach it. However, I prefer to talk it out with Matt Kroner, who is a product designer and the third man behind Fire & Bone. We speak the same language when it comes to design so if I need to make one piece fit more Kentucky with another piece (look it up) and make the whole thing look more like that weird lego piece with the backwards studs he’ll let me know. Most of the heavy lifting is done in Rhino. I like to get a physical prototype as early on as possible so I have something to turn over in my hands and learn from.

Having a physical prototype can reveal solutions and open all kinds of possibilities that a virtual model can’t. 3D printing is great for that because I can make a prototype and see how well it fits with other parts, like how snugly a glow-stick fits, for example. Then, make a change to the model and have a finalized piece much more quickly than if I had to produce it any other way. I like to decide on an overall form quickly and then do several iterations, making subtle changes and adjusting tolerances and smaller details until it feels like it’s ready to be a Thing with a capital “T”.

22_B

Can you give an example of how you go from idea to finished product?

The ideas I get the most excited about tend to happen late at night and my favorite design solutions tend to get dropped on me just as I’m waking up. However, ideas and solutions rarely occur on consecutive nights and sometime not even in that order. The idea for L Ī T grew out of two other projects. One was a silver ring I was working on that had a hollow tube in it for keeping secret notes and the other project was trying to figure out a cheap way to prototype a full-scale LED light without having to worry about wires and soldering because I was living in a tiny apartment at the time. I was thinking about using glow-sticks, just for proof-of-concepting, as a possible alternative to LEDs and the hollow ring was sitting right there.

My first prototype ring was in Shapeways black strong and flexible nylon plastic so it masked the light and had Morse code. I printed one in white polished just out of curiosity and when I saw how it diffused the light I realized there was a lot more potential there. I started playing with different forms, testing just how far I could push and stretch that little bit of light. 3D modeling and Shapeways made it so fun and so easy to try different shapes that I got a little carried away. I’ve used Shapeways to make masters for mold making and prototypes before but L Ī T is the first time I’ve used it to manufacture the final product. I don’t think it could be made any other way.

You are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to support the production and expansion of your line. Do you have any advice to other creatives who are interested in launching a crowd funding campaign to support their product?

  • Make whatever you’re making because it’s fun challenging work.
  • Create a simple compelling story. This is harder and more elusive than most people think, which leads us to . . .
  • Get some talented and trusted friends to help you write, edit, shoot, revise, revise, revise, and review, your campaign. I’m lucky enough to know the folks behind launchpack.net who have helped put several successful campaigns, including Fire & Bone, together.
  • And, get your campaign in front of as many eyes as possible. For me, this is the most daunting and difficult step.

How do you think 3D printing will impact the future of jewelry design and production?

3D printing is a boon for all design and prototyping work. It opens up a whole new world of shapes and forms that would be cost-prohibitive or impossible to make using more traditional techniques. It also has the potential to make it much faster and cheaper to iterate. 3D printing blurs the lines between concepting, prototyping, and manufacturing so designers can start “sketching” in 3D objects. Having those physical iterations to examine and test so early in the process is changing the way designers work.


 

Sneak Peek into new ways to design products on Shapeways: First To Try & Beta Products

Here at Shapeways, we’re changing how products are made and by whom. We have makers and designers from all over the world in our community, some of whom are making their first product and others who have been professional product designers for their whole lives. They’re creating everything from jewelry to rocket ships, GoPro accessories to chess sets. No matter what they’re making, though, we know how involved the creative process can be. Taking a great idea and making it real takes a lot of hard work and iteration before amazing products come to life.

With 3D printing, designers are not alone in the creative process. They don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get the form and function just right, and they don’t have to wait to go to market until they’ve undergone extensive testing. With the support of their friends and fans, they can share their products with the world and get the feedback they need — wherever they are in the product development process.  We’re committed to helping you create great products, by embracing iteration and encouraging your customers to actively participate in earlier stages of product development. Step one is setting the right expectations, and step two is opening up the conversation around products.

Today, we are excited to give our community and particularly Shop Owners a sneak peek into two new ways to get support and feedback on early stage products that we’ll release later this summer: First to Try and Beta.

Shop Owners, you can see all of the new tools on your model edit page today and preview what your products will look like when this is released to shoppers later in the summer.

Beta 

BetaProduct

Design is becoming far more collaborative across companies big and small, and we’ve already seen thousands of examples on Shapeways in which designers and customers work together to tweak products and make them more personal. We want to make it easier for Shapeways Shop Owners to tap into this trend and develop deeper, ongoing connections with their customers.

The first way we’re fueling this kind of collaboration is called Beta. Products in Beta are in active development and are being improved upon through product iteration.  As a Shop Owner, you will be able to invite your friends, fans, and communities to support you in the product development process and get feedback to improve the design. You can ask for feedback on how it fits, whether they like the design, or anything else you need to get your product over the finish line. More and more, people want to be a part of the creative process — we’re excited to help open up the doors with you.

How will this work?

The purchase area on your product page will prominently announce that this product is in Beta, and has space for you to briefly explain to customers your goals and what you’re looking for in the Beta testing. You can opt to make your product a Beta Product or to move it out of Beta at any time.

Beta Materials

By positioning your product in Beta, you will have a private comment stream to collaborate with your customers and solicit their feedback. We see a lot of this happening in comment streams today on Shapeways, but we also want a private place to encourage honest feedback and collaboration on products. Elaborate on your goals, ask specific questions, and keep customers up to date on the progress of your product and new versions you’re working on. We’ll be encouraging customers who buy a product in Beta to come back here after they receive their product to share photos and let you know what they think.

Learn more about how to use Beta Products

 

First To Try
First To Try Product

3D printing a model in every material finish you’d like to offer for sale can be quite expensive. We’re working hard to reduce the barriers to entry and we don’t ever want to make you 3D print a model in every finish yourself unless you prefer to. However, because 3D printing is still new, some customers don’t understand the risks subtleties involved with 3D printing and can be disappointed if their product doesn’t turn out the way they were expecting — or especially disappointed if it can’t be printed at all.

As a part of our efforts to increase transparency about the manufacturing process with designers, including the Print Success Rate

we are also going to provide more information to shoppers by showing the “First To Try” label on any product that hasn’t been printed before in that material. This helps shoppers understand our level of confidence that we can successfully create the product that they are looking to buy.

How does this work?

When your product has First To Try materials enabled, your customers will see a different set of choices on your product page. We’re also investing in beautiful material renders that match the color and finish of all of our materials, so you can show a shopper exactly what the product will look like, while also helping them understand that they are one of the first to 3D print it in that material and are seeing a computer-generated render, not a photo.

Once you or your customers have successfully printed your product in each material you’re offering for sale, the First To Try label won’t apply any longer. There are a few ways to progress through First To Try:

  • You can enlist your friends, fans and community to buy your product and share a photo, which will be important for your long term product success
  • You can print the product in your preferred materials and ensure you meet the Print Success Rate before you launch your product
  • You can disable the materials that haven’t been successfully printed before

Learn more about how to use First To Try

 

Beta vs First To Try

When you are really hoping to get feedback on your product — from fit to form to function and everything in between — we recommend using Beta. It’s a great way to solicit feedback and build a community around your products and ideas.

If you’ve already tested your product and are trying to understand whether you product can be successfully made in a given material, First To Try is your best bet. It sets the right expectations for your customers and helps you enlist support.

 

The Future of Product Development at Shapeways

With a process as new and rapidly-changing as 3D printing, expectation setting is critical. But we know there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We’ll continue to build more tools to help you solicit support from the community and help them understand how the process works. We’re really excited about these new additions to our marketplace, and would love for you to join the discussion here in comments and the forum to let us know what you think!

Learn more about Product Development at Shapeways, or jump into the tutorials on how to use Beta Products & First To Try in your shop today.


 

Project Caterpillar: How we’re resolving rejections at Shapeways

At Shapeways, we have a tradition of giving internal projects an animal name that captures its essence. In this case, the problem we wanted to tackle is a big hairy one with lots of sections and legs, across all our teams — like a caterpillar. The problem is: rejections. Our goal is to dramatically improve how we give you feedback when a product you have ordered cannot be manufactured using 3D printing. Historically, you might have received our standard rejection email that said, “After taking a closer look, we cannot print one of the models in order # …”  You probably spent hours designing, or searching for, that one unique product that is not for sale anywhere else and then we had to tell you to start over! We understand that this could be a very disappointing message. With Project Caterpillar, our aim is to turn design feedback and iteration into a positive experience, and watch our caterpillar eventually go into its chrysalis and emerge as a beautiful butterfly.

It has been half a year since we formed a team to tackle this issue head on. The team consists of community managers, operational directors, software developers, customer service representatives, product managers, and supply chain coordinators. It has been all hands on deck to fight what many of you felt is the worst experience when shopping, selling or making products at Shapeways: getting a rejection.

caterpillar

Caster the Curious Caterpillar Ring by designerica

Why is this such a hairy problem?

At Shapeways we always aim to quickly and affordably turn your ideas from digital designs into real products, but due to the limitations in 3D printing, some designs just can’t be brought to life in their current form. To help clarify how to best design for 3D printing, we provide tools on our website that give you the information you need to make the best possible decisions while designing a product, but it’s not always that simple. Usually we know what will print, but we are also learning with our customers every day — you are pushing the limits of the technology, and we’re right along with you, even if sometimes we have to give you bad news that we can’t produce your product as you’ve built it.

But really, why is this so hard? Here are some of the biggest issues:

  • Well, the first thing was to accept that it is OK to fail. We should take chances, and if that means we try it a few times and we still can’t print your product, that’s OK so long as we give you actionable feedback once we figure it out–and then we can keep learning about what works and what doesn’t.
  • For makers in particular, most of the time we have never seen these products before, and we are not sure what you want! Should that really small propeller actually be attached to the plane? Is it OK if you have a ton of powder stuck inside? We are guessing, and need better ways to understand your intentions and communicate.
  • One of the biggest challenges has been consistency: every model gets checked by hand, and we have dozens of production partners who are looking at thousands of models that have been made 5 minutes or 5 years ago in 40+ materials. This is a lot of people and data to coordinate. So a huge part of our focus was around training our 3D print engineers, and on giving you useful, timely feedback.
  • You might have noticed that we publish guidelines and not rules. That’s partially because we want to continue to allow you to push creative boundaries, and also because creating designs with 3D software that also observe rules of physics can be subjective. For instance, a thin wire will work if the rest of the geometry is structurally sound, but a hard “no thin wire” rule would have eliminated this option. So it’s a lot of art, and less science than we would prefer, especially when the technology improves every day.

 

With this in mind and the goal of turning rejections into resolutions, our teams have been working around the clock to surface potential issues with your models as soon as possible, to provide actionable, consistent feedback when there is an issue, and to make the rejection experience less frustrating for anyone that still receives that disappointing message.

Trust us, we know we’re not quite there yet and we will continue to do everything in our power to accommodate your needs. Still, we wanted to take this opportunity, half a year down the line to reflect on where we came from and where we are now.

Some of the steps we took to reduce rejections

#1 Thin Wall Checking and Fixing.

When we looked into the data for why we had to reject certain designs, it became clear that the biggest issue preventing them from passing our manual checks was in their structural integrity: they had “thin walls” and weren’t strong enough to withstand the whole production process. While a large part of the process your product goes through is just bits and bytes, after a product is taken out of the 3D printer, it is physically touched at least 5 times in cleaning, quality checks, packing, and more. While our printers can produce nearly anything, you can imagine when blasting excess material off your model with high pressured air, your model will need some strength to survive. Soon enough our team decided to surface critical checks of your models on upload; the thin wall checker was one of the first of these tools released on our website. Shortly followed by the thin wall fixer, which in many cases can help solve issues with your models that would have otherwise caused the models to be rejected. We have lots of huge plans for this area, so we can show you the path, right at upload, to producing your model successfully.

See how some of our materials are processed from start to finish in this video playlist:

#2 Print It Anyway.

Another feature many of our most loyal and seasoned community members have been requesting for a long time is the option to go ahead with manufacturing, even if the model doesn’t pass manual checks. Print It Anyway is an option at checkout, that enables you to test your most complicated designs and learn from the actual, physical outcome. Our production crew will always do their very best to ship models in the desired level of quality, and this is no different when selecting Print It Anyway. If a feature on your model cannot make it through the whole production process without slight issues, we would still ship the model to you, so you can hold your model in your own hands, learn from it, and iterate. We learn from your PIAs too!

#3 Detailed Manual Checks.

While all of this work was in progress, our 3D printing engineers have been aiming to provide the complete feedback to slightly adjust your design if it failed thorough manual checks. Instead of surfacing just one issue, they now describe all the issues at once. In practice, this means you would not end up in an endless circle of rejection and updating your model.  If you do experience a rejection, the reasons are also now available on your model edit page as well as in your original email.

#4 Checking Consistency & #5 Print Success Rates.  

We know that the most infuriating thing is to get a rejection of a model that you printed before, and we have paid special attention to fixing that. Indeed we have had a few big hiccups managing these models along the way, but we have improved dramatically, down to < 0.3% of models, and we are still trying to make it better. The consistency of manual checks is continuously monitored and the print success rate of your model is now shown on your model edit page. This way you see the same metrics we look at to judge success through the process.

What’s next?

We’re happy to report that we’ve made some significant progress, reducing by half the number of times we have to tell you that we can’t print your model.  When we do have to give you the bad news, most of the time it’s within 24 hours, and it’s always accompanied by a detailed explanation from a trained 3DP engineer. While we think this improves your experience, we know this is just the tip of the iceberg, especially if you’re someone who still can’t get your product made. We promise that we’re committed to helping you bring amazing products to life, and there are still lots of features and improvements lined up.

This caterpillar is not quite ready to come out of its chrysalis, at least not until we have found a solution that eradicates your frustration and disappointment, but we will continue to listen to your feedback and we will learn from you every day.

Thank you,

Team Caterpillar

caterpillar


 

3D Printing Custom Headphones is Normal

3D printed custom headphones are now available through the Normal app by former Quirky insider Nikki Kaufmann thanks to $5 million in venture backing.

normal 3D print headphone

The super simple app guides you through a photo based ear and face scanning process to configure the headphones to exactly meet your ear shape.  This is possibly the first 3D printing apps designed to make functional products, not a figurine or toy, a major step towards the ubiquity of 3D printing to power customized products.

There are already over 10 million 3D printed hearing aids in the world, now with apps such as Normal, we can expect to see more customized consumer products hit the market.

Speaking of Quirky, check out the video below and download the app to customize your earphones now.


 

Announcing the Winners of the Prototype to Product Contest with Formlabs

We had a huge response to the Prototype to Product Contest we ran with our good friends at Formlabs. Entries ranging from highly detailed ZBrush sculpts through to complex, interlocking mechanical parts, architectural models to 3D printed fashion and jewelry,  through to the whimsically weird.  We even received a submission all the way from Gran Canaria (yes we had to google the location, and yes it is crazy remote).

Although we received nearly 300 designs, only one person will have a brand new Form 1+ 3D printer shipped to their door.  The judges deliberated against the criteria, there were was tension, there was joy, they argued long into the night.  The Formlabs team pumped some serious excel magic to tally the votes, Shawn Sims from NotCot cast his well trained eye over the entrants,  The Shapeways team checked that the designs would withstand the 3D printing test and together they deemed the winner of the grand prize to be…

Continue reading