Jamais Cascio has a post at open The Future on a new 3D Fabber service offered by a company called Shapeways - 3D Print-To_Order.
Whenever I talk about the rise of low-cost 3D fabrication, one inevitable question (after "how expensive is a printer?") is "does anyone do print-on-demand fabbing?" Real soon now, the answer will be yes. (Update: As Sven notes in the comments, print-on-demand fabbing has been around for a bit, but this one seems to be the first aimed at non-professional users.) Shapeways is a new startup service that promises to take your dusty old X3D or Collada-format 3D design files and turn them into shiny new physical objects. Mashable has more, including invites to the closed beta program.
Prices range from $2.50 to $3.44 per cubic centimeter, depending upon the chosen material (which can be solid, flexible, or transparent) and whether or not you're ordering from the EU. That's not cheap, if what you're looking for is a finished consumer item (they use the cute/creepy "monkey baby" dolls shown above as samples; they measure just a couple of inches tall, and run upwards of $60), but it's terrific if you're looking to get a one-off of a unique design. Many of the pages on the Shapeways site remain locked to non-beta visitors, but the blog is open. The blog is good even for folks not about to get stuff printed, as it provides photos of and details about the 3D printers they use, and discusses the stumbling blocks Shapeways has encountered as they get this thing rolling.
This won't be for everybody. You'll have to do the hard design work, in a 3D program that outputs their preferred formats, so I really don't expect this to be the Next Big Web 2.0 extravaganza. Make an app that will convert Second Life (or other Metaverse environment) objects into fully-qualified X3D files, and we'll talk. I'm just fascinated by how fast this market evolves.
Technology Review also has an article on Shapeways - 3-D Printing for the Masses.
"From a technology viewpoint, Shapeways is not that new," says Weijmarshausen. "Rapid prototyping has been used by the aircraft and automotive industries for years, but now we're making it accessible to consumers."
Users submit their design in digital form, after which Shapeways's software checks it over to ensure that it can be made. Shapeways then passes the design to its production line of polymer printers, delivering the tangible object within 10 days of ordering, with prices typically between $50 and $150.
Making this kind of technology accessible enables people to be more creative, says Hod Lipson, an engineer at Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY, and founder of Fab@Home, a 3-D printing community that helps people learn how to build their own cheap printers. "People might have an idea of something they want to create, but don't have the skills or resources to make it," he says.
The 3-D printers that Shapeways is using are commercially available, made by Israeli firm Objet and Stratsys in Eden Prairie, MN. The company also aims to increase the range of plastic materials that can be printed, and eventually move on to metals and ceramics. But currently, these tend to require laser sintering and thus are considerably more expensive and time consuming, says Weijmarshausen.
Some services, such as Ponoko, based in New Zealand, already let people create customized parts and objects--anything from jewelry to fully functional tables, says Derek Elley, Ponoko's chief strategy officer. But this is achieved using two-dimensional laser cutters; 3-D objects need to be assembled afterward.
According to Weijmarshausen, Shapeways's use of 3-D printers takes this concept further. Objects are built in one piece and can include moving parts. "You can even make a working clock," Weijmarshausen says.
Fabbers have been a staple of science fiction in recent years, with Cory Doctorow's story Printcrime being a good example.
The coppers smashed my father’s printer when I was eight. I remember the hot, cling-film-in-a-microwave smell of it, and Da’s look of ferocious concentration as he filled it with fresh goop, and the warm, fresh-baked feel of the objects that came out of it.
The coppers came through the door with truncheons swinging, one of them reciting the terms of the warrant through a bullhorn. One of Da’s customers had shopped him. The ipolice paid in high-grade pharmaceuticals — performance enhancers, memory supplements, metabolic boosters. The kind of things that cost a fortune over the counter; the kind of things you could print at home, if you didn’t mind the risk of having your kitchen filled with a sudden crush of big, beefy bodies, hard truncheons whistling through the air, smashing anyone and anything that got in the way.