Shapeways CEO: 3D Printing Can Fully Disrupt Views on Manufacturing

7/11/13Follow @jpruth

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it grows the U.S. staff. Weijmarshausen says the company has hired tech talent locally as well as outside of New York.

Weijmarshausen is not the only one who wants to put 3D printing at center stage, and a highly competitive group of companies is battling in this space. The industry has seen some legal spats over technology infringement—Formlabs and 3D Systems are discussing a settlement of their patent litigation—and rivals who pop up within skipping distance of each other. Solidoodle in Brooklyn was founded by Sam Cervantes, the former chief operating officer of nearby MakerBot.

Shapeways, which moved its headquarters to New York in 2010 after its Series A round with Union Square Ventures and Index Ventures, unveiled a production facility in Long Island City last October that houses about a dozen 3D printers with additional printers being installed almost monthly. “By the time it is completely at capacity,” Weijmarshausen says, “we will have between 40 and 50 machines.”

That may happen sooner rather than later. In April, Shapeways raised $30 million in a Series C funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz. The company will be able to produce more than 2 million products annually, he says, at the Long Island facility when it is full of printers by the end of this year.

Weijmarshausen says the company plans to keep adding new materials to the plastics, stainless steel, silver, and ceramics currently available. Shapeways recently introduced a rubber-like flexible material called elasto plastic on its menu. “There are other totally different types of materials like wood; granite can be printed. We don’t have those yet,” he says. Gold and alloys of steels such as titanium are on his wish list. He anticipates introducing more new materials to his service this year but it is too early to say what they might be.

As some players in the 3D printing industry consolidate, namely Stratasys acquiring MakerBot, Weijmarshausen says he does not feel pressure to change his strategy.

“Stratasys was one of the pioneers in FDM [fused deposition modeling] technology; MakerBot is using FDM technology. It makes a lot of sense, from the outside, that they are together now,” he says, and expressed hope that the deal would drive market adoption at the high and low ends.

Before co-founding Shapeways, Weijmarshausen was part of software company Not a Number Technologies, which published 3D graphics software Blender. When he heard about 3D printing, he reached out to the community of hobbyists in 3D software about turning their virtual designs into real items. “They already had the skill to mold things in 3D.”

The attention focused on 3D printing has also drawn critics who question where this is really going. Making replacement parts through the medium is not the same as manufacturing an entire engine block for example. Weijmarshausen says the technology is evolving to broaden its applications. “Wouldn’t it be great to print in one product both plastic and metal? Today that technology does not exist,” he says.

Weijmarshausen believes as more companies look to this market, innovation will follow and new materials will become available. He also hopes the public will develop more realistic expectations of the technology. “In some ways, 3D printing’s perception is science fiction,” he says, “and people think everything can be 3D printed. In reality that is not the case.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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  • Mike Sangha

    I cannot agree more with Peter. This is a rocket ship called 3D printing, which is likely to cause immense disruption. We need to get the ethics and the legal elements in hand before the horses bolt the barn. If you still dont know about 3D printing, this is a good primer: http://chopra-m.blogspot.com/2013/03/ready-set3d-print.html