If you 3D print you know how important materials are. As I always like to say, it’s the stuff that stuff is made of. Shapeways knows this well, which is why the service has upped the ante on testing 3D printable materials by offering a materials Pilots Hub page, where designers can keep track of pilot programs and sign up.
Why are pilots so important in the 3D printing community? As you probably already know, 3D printing is a rapidly evolving technology with an unlimited potential for improvements. But testing is essential to the process. In the past Shapeways has allowed for other materials to be tested, but now they are streamlining the process and making it easier to see all the pilot programs and sign up, or be waitlisted, for one.
“You can test a new material, tool or service and provide us with your thoughts and feedback so that we can continue to improve the offering,” the company says of the Pilots. One of the primary objectives for the program is, they say, “Getting a sense of what can and cannot be done when it comes to design guidelines. You are all constantly pushing the boundaries of what can be done, and we want to know from the beginning if a new material can support your creations.”
That’s the spirit of this new Pilots Hub. This program allows the 3D printing public quicker access to new materials, allows important feedback from designers on what’s possible with various materials, and reduces rejections once a material is offered to the public. Once a new material is rolled out, customers will likely have fewer problems if the material has already been extensively tested.
Among the Material Pilots, three new Shapeways materials are listed.
Interlocking Metal is currently being piloted, which is a change since currently you can only design interlocking parts in Shapeways’ Strong & Flexible. Now you have the opportunity for unique designs in their popular cast brass and silver materials.
Aluminum material is also being piloted now. Described as “lightweight, strong and high tolerance, and capable of interlocking parts,” this addition is printed with a Selective Laser melting process.
The third and final new material might look like Shapeways’ existing black Strong & Flexible, but Black Nylon 11 material is SLS printed in powder form and has different properties because it’s a different type of nylon (nylon 11 as opposed to nylon 12 used in the Strong & Flexible material already available).
Shapeways has been piloting porcelain and full color plastic materials, and if you visit the new Pilots Hub page you can see how easy it is to sign up (or be waitlisted) for the pilots. Designers who are waitlisted are added according to manufacturing capacity, allowing more personalized support to those in the testing groups.
Every pilot program is managed by Shapeways employees who will interact with designers during the process, and pilot forums allow you to chat with others who are in the same boat as you: testing new 3D printing materials for mass marketing.
This Pilots Hub service seems like an excellent addition to Shapeways’ already extensive offering of products and services for all your 3D printing needs. Have you tried, or will you soon sign up for, a Shapeways Pilot program? Let us know what you’d like to test out in the Shapeways Introduces Pilot Hubs forum thread over at 3DPB.com.