AMS Spring 2023

Shapeways 3D Prints Over 20 Million Parts Worldwide

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New York-based 3D printing service provider Shapeways announced it has 3D printed over 20 million products across dozens of industries, from architecture and robotics to drone technology, even focusing on producing personal protective equipment (PPE) to combat COVID-19 in 2020. A spin-out of the lifestyle incubator of Royal Philips Electronics in the Netherlands, Shapeways has been providing cutting-edge 3D printing technology to create on-demand products since 2007. The company surpassed this major milestone in February 2021 and is continually scaling its manufacturing solutions to meet the needs of over one million customers worldwide.

Set on “democratizing creation for everyone,” Shapeways uses ten different printing technologies, 90 materials and finishes, and a dedicated team of over 250 employees to meet diverse customer requirements. The company is a 3D printing marketplace and community, harnessing additive technologies to help anyone turn ideas into a physical reality, making product design more accessible, affordable, and personalized.

For Shapeways CEO Greg Kress, hitting the 20 million mark is a fantastic achievement. A dedicated number of the products manufactured resulted from the Shapeways community coming together to make 3D printed face shields and other COVID-19 related items. This significant step for the business is also a reminder of “what was learned and lost in 2020,” a year Kress described as “undeniably challenging for everyone.”

Quantum-System’s Trinity F90+ drone. Quantum Systems used Shapeways’ 3D printing services to create the ultimate eVTOL aircraft. Image courtesy of Quantum Systems.

“During these strange times, 3D printing has acted as a beacon of hope for those in need of 3D printed PPEs, for designers and businesses looking for more affordable ways to design and manufacture, produce locally, and for the future of industrial production overall,” said Kress. “I have had the privilege to work with several dynamic companies showing the diversity of design and 3D printing.”

In March 2020, healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic were in desperate need of protective equipment. Responding to this shortage, many companies, universities, institutes, and small-scale 3D printing manufacturers downloaded designs to quickly ramp up the production of medical face shields and other products.

Shapeways was quick to create its COVID-19 Community Response Initiative, where people could sponsor the production of 3D-printed reusable face shields. For every four sponsored face shields, Shapeways donated the fifth one. For this undertaking, the company relied on selective laser sintering (SLS) technology and medical-grade materials for easy disinfection. It then created a suite of COVID-19 supplies, including hands-free door openers and 3D printed nasal swabs.

Shapeways is manufacturing 3D printed nasal swabs to help with COVID-19 testing. Image courtesy of Shapeways.

To ensure seamless on-demand production of quality parts, Shapeways offers a complete array of manufacturing capabilities, including self-service options and various levels of expert support. The company’s additive manufacturing (AM) expertise is reinforced by a global network of certified printers, materials, and manufacturing partners. But getting to 20 million parts meant leveraging 3D technology for several unique applications, including smart beehives, rugged device mounts for off-road vehicles, and even a hydrometer for brewing craft beer.

One of the many examples of successful product development came from a partnership with Israeli pollination experts at BeeHero. Shapeways completed the third generation of their smart hive with a monitoring system, and 3D printed hardware housing an internal sensor. BeeHero’s journey to streamline technology so beekeepers and farmers can optimize hive productivity led them to choose SLS over injection molding. By leveraging Shapeways’ design-for-additive, product development, and digital manufacturing capabilities, BeeHero benefited from manufacturing and delivery speed, improved product quality as well as simple assembly and installation. The best part of the project is that the bees accepted the nylon product, which contributed to successful results, as real-time pollination monitoring led to increased crop yields by up to 30%.

BeeHero and Shapeways 3D printed sensor case placed inside a beehive. Image courtesy of BeeHero.

Similarly, for creators of high-end adventure vehicle accessories 67 Designs, Shapeways test-printed prototype iterations for a highly durable iPad mounting device that can withstand off-roading rigors. This ultimately led to the creation of the MagMount G3, featuring a magnet array for better iPad alignment and attachment during off-road adventures. Shapeways’ collaboration led to a top-quality solution from industrial-grade AM and a greener product while bolstering “made in America” goals with avenues for production in local markets.

Shapeways and 67 Designs iPad rugged device mounts for off-road vehicles. Image courtesy of 67 Designs.

To create a game-changing device that monitors beer gravity and temperature in real-time for instant adjustments to the fermentation process, Tilt Hydrometers turned to Shapeways to produce prototypes and final parts. At ten times the cost savings than plastic milling technology, 3D printing successfully encased sensitive electronics in a lightweight, flexible, and durable plastic material available from Shapeways in a rainbow of colors for easy multiple-batch monitoring. As a result, tens of thousands of homebrew and professional brewery customers worldwide now rely on the Tilt Hydrometer and its intuitive mobile app to create ideal brewing conditions.

Unlike desktop printers or maker spaces, the Shapeways platform offers services from their own factories and global supply chain network. The increasing interest in 3D printing technologies across many industries helps drive a global digital transformation, benefiting from faster lead times, greater design freedom, and lower costs. Shapeways is enabling direct access to manufacturing, contributing to the creation of businesses without a high upfront cost of traditional manufacturing processes. As the company went from 12 million 3D printed parts to 20 million in just a few years, we can expect to learn of another milestone soon, especially as AM continues to disrupt production.

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