Shapeways, a spinoff from electronics giant Royal Philips
Electronics, is shaking up the world of 3-D printing with a new offering
that produces objects in stainless steel instead of the more traditional
polymer materials used by competitive 3-D print offerings.
Shapeways, which bills itself as a 3-D co-creation
community, targets artists, enthusiasts and seasoned 3-D designers and
engineers with do-it-yourself 3-D printing services that empower them to
customize existing products and bring prototype designs to life in a
cost-effective fashion, according to CEO Peter Weijmarshausen. With its new
service, Shapeways is making stainless steel production accessible for anyone
over the Internet, Weijmarshausen says.
"While service bureaus offering polymer production are widespread,
those offering stainless steel capabilities are hard to come by," he says.
"There's an endless list of things you can make in stainless steel that is not
possible with plastics." Specifically, Weijmarshausen cites examples such as
mechanical parts for remote-control toys, components for robots and housing for
computers as potential new opportunities for 3-D stainless steel print
production that weren't possible with existing services.
For engineers, the new Shapeways service has a number of possibilities.
For limited production runs, individuals could utilize the stainless steel
service to produce metal casings for electronics equipment or to create
mechanical parts without having to invest in expensive CNC milling equipment.
The service also has applicability for quick and cost-effective turnaround of
physical metal component prototypes in addition to being a more economical and
efficient way of dealing with the need for spare parts, Weijmarshausen says. "Instead of having to keep all kinds of spare parts around just in
case something breaks, with Shapeways, you don't need to," he says. As long as
there is a 3-D model of the part, the engineer can ship the model to Shapeways
and order a replacement part without having to stock spare parts going forward.
Shapeways' technique deposits stainless steel powder in a
very thin layer and glues it together with a binder. Printed objects are built
up using this process over layers, and when complete, the objects are infused
with bronze and cured in an oven. After cooling, the objects can be left in the
original steel finish or be tumbled to get a polished effect.
To access the Shapeways service, engineers simply export a
CAD file from any of the main packages to an STL format and upload it to the Shapeways
site. Pricing is based on the amount of material used, starting at $10 per