The 3D printing movement is well under way -- albeit with some hype built in -- and Shapeways, a marketplace where people can design, create, and sell their own products, is leading the charge.
Shapeways, sometimes known as the Etsy for 3D printing, now has 10,000 "shop owners" -- people who have designed products, from iPhone cases to jewelry and shoes, that they print out and sell via Shapeways. The New York-based company is building out its recently opened 3D printing factory in the Queens borough of New York City, where its printers are cranking out roughly 1,000 products a day. By the end of the year, co-founder and CEO Peter Weijmarshausen said that he expects to be printing products a rate of 2 million to 3 million a year.
"The Internet has made it easy for software entrepreneurs, and we're enabling people to become product entrepreneurs," Weijmarshausen said. "Anyone can launch a product company."
It's a vision that the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz says could help Shapeways become eBay-like in size, as more and more people with an idea and knack for design start selling their own wares.
Andreessen Horowitz is leading a $30 million investment round in Shapeways that was announced today. Shapeways is already backed by Union Square Ventures and Lux Capital, among others. As part of the investment, Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon, who co-founded Hunch and has invested in such startups as Pinterest and Kickstarter, is joining Shapeways' board.
"Think about what the Internet has done to reduce costs," Dixon said, referring to publishing and e-commerce. "Up until now, physical goods has resisted that trend. That's one of the exciting things about Shapeways and 3D printing in general. You can create thing that even only a few might buy and it's economically viable."
There are limitations, of course. For now, 3D printers still can only print one material at a time, although printers are now able to make products using all sorts of materials -- from plastics and steel to ceramics. Parts for aircraftsand cars are now made with 3D printers, and the technology is improving as costs keep coming down.
"Our plan is to build more factories and overcome tech challenges, to make it as easy as possible for anyone," said Weijmarshausen. "The key problem is making it really easy, fun and affordable."