Shapeways Take on Mass Customization

By on April 1st, 2009 in blog

Tags: ,

We read a very interesting take on the future of mass customization from the Shapeways blog, in which they propose a future vision of 3D printing. They view the current mass media understanding of 3D printing, in which everyone has a 3D printer on their desk and they happily create 3D models and print them out whenever necessary, as a false future. We agree that the public will generally not produce their own models. They cite the “Singer Problem”, where no one needs to buy clothes if everyone had a sewing machine. We suppose that is technically true, but in reality very few people create clothes from scratch with a sewing machine.

Shapeways believes, and we agree, that the future will not unfold in the way the mass media expects. 3D models are too complex for the general public to create on their own, and indeed even if they could it doesn’t mean you always have the best ideas for models yourself. The key is to share models in some fashion, and that’s precisely Shapeway’s approach. They provide a platform for sharing models and also a means to print them on different kinds of equipment.

They pose an intriguing list of three tipping points for 3D printing:

When someone develops a 3D modeling application that anyone can use and many can master(and that produces good printable files).

When someone develops a post consumer recycled 3D printing material

When printing metal and circuits becomes cheap

We couldn’t agree more, and believe that print services such as Shapeways and others will always have a role in the manufacturing future. However, as devices become inexpensive they will start showing up on people’s desks. What happens then? We think the print services will continue to provide specialized printing to supplement the inevitably limited home printing options.

Via Shapeways Blog

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!


  1. SK,

    Spore and Jujups to me are not modeling apps as I meant them in my post. They are 'template modifiers' as our Creator tools are. Although in the case of Spore, their excellent & ambitious execution enables people to do a lot of customization and feel like they are designing. A Spore tool that would allow anyone to make any kind of design is more along the lines of what I think is needed. A Spore for everything.

    Recycling: exactly if 3D printing becomes mainstream you will have tons of stuff that is being produced. If the materials have an intrinsic advantage as opposed to regular plastics used by industry it will drive adoption. Any 'techie', 'hug the earth' person & policymaker will then see the advantages of the approach.

    "When printing metal and circuits becomes cheap"

    Apart from the direct fetishism that Apple is able to inspire we love electronics devices for what they can do for us, what they signify, what they enable us to do, how they make us feel.

    To me the idea of "limitless enjoyment" is a key driver of most consumer electronics revolutions. Being able to design & make things that provide "limitless enjoyment" with a "limitless enjoyment" device would then be a very powerful thing indeed.

  2. We all want to see 3d printing take off. But we need to know the barriers.

    Shapeways has a very powerful approach – crowd sourcing designs while introducing new technology and a new business model – well a head of time and far thinking. Admirable.

    But anything revolutionary has its challenges and its good to know the barriers , else we will be bashing on it mindlessly:

    “When someone develops a 3D modeling application that anyone can use and many can master(and that produces good printable files).”

    Spore has done this well. So has JuJups in a limited way.

    “When someone develops a post consumer recycled 3D printing material”

    Why is this so important ? recycling is an issue when you tons of stuff, or bits of stuff that is super expensive.

    “When printing metal and circuits becomes cheap”

    Why this ? does not most of the consumer excitement come from software ? Why is creating new personalized electronic functionality going to be a driver ?

  3. Josh & the General,

    This was just my two cents. Thank you for posting it on Fabaloo general!

    It would be interesting to make a bet to see what everyone thinks will happen with desktop 3D printers.

    You guys in?

    I'm trying to work out the wording of the bet with Joseph of Replicator.

    In 2012 there will be 300,000(or 1m, 2m etc.) 3D printers.

    Whichever one of us is closest wins.

  4. amazing how this future of 3d printing is taking off huh.. lots of people with lots of opinions, but we all seem to agree that it’s not going to be what the ‘mass media’ think.

    interesting times fabby.

    Josh –

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *