Now Anyone Can Use 3D Printing To Make Money

Peter Weijmarshausen runs Shapeways, an innovative manufacturing company that has been around since 2007. 

Shapeways is unique because it uses 3D printing to allow anyone to create a custom-designed product ranging from art, jewellery, iPhone cases, trinkets, toys, cuff links, mugs, and anything else you can imagine. 

shapeways custom bottle opener
A custom bottle opener designed by a Shapeways member

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If you really like your creation, you can use Shapeways to sell it to anyone you like. Think of it as Etsy for people who make their stuff using 3D printers.

peter shapeways ceo
Peter Weijmarshausen, Shapeways Co-founder and CEO

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“We enable people to basically open up their own little company. They can design and test their products and bring them mainstream,” Weijmarshausen told Business Insider in an interview.Shapeways has produced over 1 million 3D printed products and there are currently over 8,000 Shapeways shops in existence.

It’s surprising that with more than 6 billion product variations that Shapeways’ production process isn’t extremely complicated.

In fact, the way Shapeways works is simple, Shapeways sets a production cost, and you can mark it up as much as you want and that sets the final price. Depending on the material, customers will receive their items within 10-15 business days. Shapeways even ships your product to customers for you and at the end of the month you get all the profits your item made. Shapeways will always charge you the same price if you want to sell your item or not. 

shapeways 3d printed necklace
A custom 3D coin necklace. There are actually pennies inside.

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Weijmarshausen says that people are unhappy with mass-produced goods and that consumers want to be involved in the design process allowing intimate customisation and personalisation to the products they buy. Shapeways’ 60-person workforce isn’t trying to simply bring 3D printing capabilities to the mainstream, it is trying to change the way manufacturing works.

The amount of users already taking advantage of Shapeways is a testament to the model working. “We are enabling almost a quarter of million people to make their own products. we are definitely growing quickly,” Weijmarshausen said.

The following is a lightly edited conversation Business Insider had with Weijmarshausen where he discusses 3D printing and how Shapeways is different from the rest.

Business Insider: Do you think the average person should care about 3D printing and why?

Peter Weijmarshausen: Yes and no. I do not think that we should talk to much about the technology because in the end what you’re getting is this beautiful item. Do we really care if a gift is 3D printed or not? I do think we should understand that this new type of tech is working. I think that Shapeways is an advancement in personalised gifts. I am more passionate about the end results.

custom iPhone 5 case
A custom iPhone case made using Shapeways.

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In the past, starting a company around a physical product was hard, you needed to have a good idea, you had  to patent that idea, then find a manufacturer, get loans, find retail channels and then sell it and hope that you sell it all. With Shapeways the concept of starting a business has changed. Entrepreneurs can come up with an idea, model it, test it, start a shop on Shapeways free of charge, and have immediate access to a lot of customers. We don’t care if you make one, 10, or 1000. We see more and more small businesses using Shapeways in this exact way.

BI: What does Shapeways have planned for 2013?

PW: One of the very important things that we found is materials. We already have over 30 different types of materials from the widest varieties including plastics, stainless steel, silver, ceramics, and more in all kinds of colours and finishes. 

In 2013 we want to bring even more materials to our customers. We also want to improve the quality of these materials too. Next to that, I think our website can always be improved so that we can get users the features they want so it’ll be easier to understand and anybody who wants to get a product they care about can get it.

We also just announced a factory in Long Island City. Shapeways 3D printing brings manufacturing back into the city making it local. we can manufacture our products in the USA and close to our customers. Building out this factory for us is very important. It cuts our costs allowing us to share the savings with the community. I don’t believe that we should make stuff on one side of the world and then ship it back here.

As we grow, we’re going to open more factories and bring things back local using high tech manufacturing.

BI: Do you see companies like MakerBot as competition or allies?

PW: Definitely not competition. I think the home printer is an amazing marketing tool lots of people to get into 3D printing just like with the home paper printer. At home you can print in any colour you want but you can’t necessarily get all of the materials you might want to use. 

A lot of people prototype at home then use Shapeways for higher quality materials. I also think that having a home printer is definitely for the tech savvy. Its not for everyone yet so again people see the home 3D printer and they’re amazing but this is where we come in.

That’s why we want to make the use of 3D printers as easy as possible enabling people to make products instead of simply using 3D printers.

Learn More About 3D Printing: 11 Crazy Things You Can Make With A MakerBot >