During our recent visit to New York we journeyed to the peculiar neighborhood of Long Island City to visit one Duann Scott of Shapeways at their brand new “Factory of the Future”. Scott graciously showed us their operations in gritty detail. You’d never know Shapeways main plant is present in these streets and avenues of nameless industrial operations, but past the locked front door you see something familiar, in the image above.
Further up the stairs you arrive at a heavy set of double doors – with a tiny 3D printed “Shapeways” sign pasted on one side. Inside is a breathtaking 25,000 square feet (3250sm), much of which is empty, awaiting a future gigantic expansion.
The Shapeways plant is divided into two sections: human and machine. The machine area contains several large scale commercial 3D printers such as those above beside Duann Scott himself. As you can see, there are bowling alleys worth of space behind him where more equipment can be installed.
On the human side, experts sit at workstations examining incoming 3D print requests to ensure they are in fact printable and otherwise prepping print jobs for the big machines. At the time of our visit, the “Christmas Rush” had apparently just ended, where a massive burst of orders traditionally arrives just before the holiday season.
Straight from the 3D printers, objects are finished in a dedicated room by a specialist. The large roundish machine is a tumbler, filled with tiny ceramic bits that clang against your 3D prints to smooth out any excess material and complete the finishing process.
We’ve written often of Shapeways habit of experimentation. We witnessed this first hand where they continue to fiddle with pigments, attempting to achieve the perfect color.
Completed prints are bagged and tagged and end up in a bin at the sorting station. It’s fascinating to see the stream of 3D ideas manifest in bags and bags of wildly differing objects. While we were not permitted to image these prints, we observed artwork, industrial parts, familiar designs and a bunch of very strange stuff. The prints for an order are collected and organized here. Heh, you can also see a bit of their office Christmas Tree, entirely adorned with 3D printed ornaments.
The next stop is the shipping station, where orders are packed. Shapeways has invented a variety of techniques for safely packing objects to survive shipment and can reliably ship your orders. The secret? Lots and lots of Bubble Wrap.
To many of its customers, Shapeways must seem like a “black box” that produces objects magically. This may be the appearance, but it’s not the reality as Shapeways’ expert staff work everyday to get those orders completed. If you’ve ever wondered what’s behind the curtain, this is where your Shapeways prints come from.
Very good article. Thanks to you and the guys from Shapeways for sharing.
I'm interested in the tumbler. Where are they to be found? Who manufacturers them? I would suggest a few Fabbaloo articles on the subject of finishing.
If they stop shaving off their designers sales, the real growth-engine of this start up company, they just might see the day where the whole area is filled with 3d printers.. otherwise its a marketing hype that will end miserably.
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