An interesting announcement from Shapeways this week says they are offering bronze prints of their popular Ringpoem model for the first time ever. The catch? It's an experiment that concludes on 31 March 2009 (today, sorry!), so you may have missed out. They say that if there is demand and if they can work out the bugs, they might extend the capability to the other models. If Shapeways can manage that, then it means the general public has a straightforward means of producing 3D metal objects. And we think that's a very interesting development.
As technologies proceed through their lifecycle, we expect to observe stages of increasing capability. Consider that the first 3D printers offered only a single print media, one with limited physical properties and only in a single unattractive color. But over time, manufacturers improved their offerings to gradually provide multiple materials, stronger materials, colored materials, and so on. These improvements are usually offered first by the most expensive providers, but over time the costs decrease and the new capabilities become available to more people.
We're seeing here one of those stages, where metal printing, previously more difficult to obtain, is now emerging on a mainstream service platform. Sure, one could find a service to deliver metal printing before this development, but the difference is in the nature of the audience. Metal printing just got a lot easier for many people. It's another step towards commonplace 3D printing.