While visiting the Philips research lab here in Amsterdam I came across a company that is getting the Star Trek replicator closer to everyday life. Imagine being able to create any 3D object you want—a World of Warcraft avatar, a chess set, a lamp, a Lego piece you are missing, a house for a train model, or a fully articulated astromech droid—print it remotely, and have it delivered to your house in just 10 days, even without knowing any 3D software. This is exactly what Shapeways does. Not next century, but right now, today.
Shapeways is a spin-off from Philips' Lifestyle Incubator. On one side, it's a website where you can upload your 3D models—which can even have joins—or use an online 3D creator with access to everyday models. The online 3D creator is extremely easy to use, so anyone can modify them without any technical or product design knowledge. With this, anyone can make a candle holder or a fruit bowl out of song lyrics or a personal message by just typing it. Advanced users to access to 3D packages can upload any model they can imagine in a 3D standard format, like STL, Collada or X3D.
On the other side, there are different types of rapid prototyping machines that can create that model using a variety of materials, from nylon to plastic composites, each with different properties. For example, the nylon one results in a semi-flexible object, while a plastic called "Cream Robust" gives you an extremely hard finish. Once you select the material and submit your model to 3D printer, you will get it in your hands in 10 days, with an average cost of US$50 to US$150, including shipping.
While the system is not perfect yet - there's no colour yet and you can get different textures for the surfaces - the start is very promising and the possibilities are endless. As a consumer, the customisation of objects is attractive enough, but the ability to upload any object and receive it in 10 days is even more exciting (and I don't mean printing dildos, which—apparently/sadly/fortunately for Benny—is not allowed). Model makers, Lego aficionados, product designers, and toy lovers of any kind, will absolutely love this one. [Shapeways]