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Thread: How Shapeways Works

  1. #1

    Default How Shapeways Works

    I thought it would be beneficial to give a brief overview of how Shapeways actually works, and where the process can fail:

    1. A designer decides to create a new Shapeways model. They use their favorite 3D modeling program and all the nice drawings and photos they can find to create a 3D model of the plane. In order to pass Shapeways checking tools, the designer knows the limits in each material and designs so that most checks will pass. For instance, "walls" (flat surfaces) have to be 0.7mm thick or more to print in WSF material, so the designer makes sure the wings are at least 0.7mm thick. "Wires" (things like struts and guns) have to be 0.8mm or 1.0mm in diameter. Depending much a feature protrudes from its parent surface, it might be considered just surface detail (and not subject to rules) or it might be considered a standalone feature (and subject to rules). This modeling is very different than what is done for a computer-graphics model: they're free to use up to 1,000,000 triangles without worrying about performance, but they have to be careful to meet all those minimum sizes and keep the surface "closed".
    2. The designer uploads the plane to Shapeways. At this point it is not visible to anyone else. There are a set of automated checks that run and flag problems -- especially wall thickness. (But unfortunately not "wire thickness".) Sometimes the designer will go through several rounds of tweaking something and uploading until the Shapeways tools are happy. Assuming these automated checks pass, the designer can then turn the model into a "Product", which means adding in descriptive text, picking which materials will be available, etc.
    3. The designer picks the markup, which can be anything from $0.00 up. That markup is added to the "model price", which is how much Shapeways computes it will cost them to make the model (plus some profit). Most designers choose something between $1 to $5 markup for each 1:144 plane.
    4. Once everything is ready, the designer marks the product as publicly-visible and ready for sale. It is marked "First to Try" since no one has printed it yet.
    5. Now someone orders that product. If it has never been printed before (or, at least, since the last time the model was uploaded), a Shapeways employee looks at the model and decides whether it's printable. This isn't a science and one employee might be fine with something that another will flag as a problem. If the employee doesn't like it, the order is rejected and a note is sent to the designer and the customer.
    6. Next Shapeways adds the model to one of their print runs. For WSF that means your airplane is printed along with 1,000 other things in a huge block of white powder. An employee has to separate each plane out of that block, which is like doing an archaeological dig. If they fumble it, they break your model and sometimes (IMHO) blame the designer, mark the order rejected and the model as unprintable. This is how a model gets rejected even though it has printed okay one hundred times before. Other times they'll acknowledge the model is okay and just try to print it again. If a model doesn't maintain an 80% successful print rate, it gets marked "First To Try" again. To make matters worse, they subcontract some of their printing, and the subcontractors might have different guidelines and skill levels.
    7. If the print looks okay to their eye, it's packed and shipped to the customer (and this is another source of errors.. a plane could print without a propeller and they'd probably never notice). I've seen a lot of prints that came out of the printer fine and then got bent and twisted during shipping.
    8. On a monthly basis Shapeways sums the markups of every successful print and sends it to the developer via PayPal, minus a small cut that they keep.


    As a designer, the most frustrating part is having a design print dozens of times okay and then getting a rejection with a dubious excuse and diagram of how it "can't be printed due to thin wires" or "weak parts".

    On a side note: I do really appreciate it when someone refers to one of my planes as a "Reduced Aircraft Factory design" instead of a "Shapeways plane". It acknowledges the work the designer has put in is more important than the machine that fuses tiny plastic beads.

    Fortunately, Shapeways has gotten incrementally better at almost every step here over the years. (WSF prints are much higher quality now than in 2014.) It's still not an exact science, though.

  2. #2

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    Thanks for the info, Daryl.

  3. #3

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    Very interesting; thanks.

    I wondered how a plane I received in one order could be "failed" in the next.

  4. #4

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    Thanks Daryl, this is very interesting.

  5. #5

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    Good point on giving the designer credit; of course, I'd have to remember where I bought the plane from
    Karl
    It is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he thinks he knows. -- Epictetus

  6. #6

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    Very useful information, thanks and hope it goes well for your business.

  7. #7

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    I'm with Tim. I have scratched my noggin wondering why a previous order was fine but now it won't print.

    I agree with Karl too. When I place an order I am not careful enough to note who I bought what from. Will try to do better in the future.

  8. #8

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    Thanks! It's not a huge deal, but it's appreciated. I think there's a good analogy to printed books, where the author writes the words and the publisher prints them and distributes them. But no one says, "I just got this great new Random House book!" :-) BTW, if you have ordered using a username, you can always look at your previous orders in Shapeways to see what you bought.

  9. #9

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by ReducedAirFact View Post
    Thanks! It's not a huge deal, but it's appreciated. I think there's a good analogy to printed books, where the author writes the words and the publisher prints them and distributes them. But no one says, "I just got this great new Random House book!" :-) BTW, if you have ordered using a username, you can always look at your previous orders in Shapeways to see what you bought.
    Yes - all my previous orders are still present on the Shapeways site; I'm trying to record which models came from which designer, particularly to compare the same plane by two different designers.

  10. #10

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    That was useful, thanks Daryl.
    Run for your life - there are stupid people everywhere!

  11. #11

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    Well Daryl that gives me a possible explanation of my Caudron Journey. The G4 I ordered never arrived. aAter a month of trying I was told the print kept breaking and therefore it wasn't "to Spec" and they would notify the designer - I received a refund. Next I received a message that the files had been revised and I could re-order, which I did. It printed and shipped quickly. The print arrived, twisted and broken. Again, your explanation of their process gives me a probable cause. Anyway, I "Endeavored To Persevere" and did complete my project as can be seen in "My Caudron Journey" Shapeways post.

  12. #12

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    A really interesting post Daryl. Thank you. Designers name shall be recorded against my lists.

  13. #13

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    Excellent & useful explanation, Daryl.

  14. #14

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    Thanks, Daryl.
    Very interesting info.

  15. #15

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    I, too, want to say 'thank you', Daryl.
    I have four planes I bought through Shapeways, but my wingman did the ordering and I didn't ask which designer they came from.

  16. #16

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    Thanks for the very nice explanation. What a fascinating business model.

    What 3D software do you use?

    So you are saying the observation balloons are ~$38 of material and Shapeways costs?

  17. #17

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    Very well done, answers a lot of questions. With all my orders over the years I have never had one canceled on me that was not reprinted and produced eventually. Had not considered the designer credit, will do from now on, thanks for your designs!

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Togo View Post
    Thanks for the very nice explanation. What a fascinating business model.

    What 3D software do you use?

    So you are saying the observation balloons are ~$38 of material and Shapeways costs?
    I use Blender, an open-source modeling and animation program.

    Yeah, the balloons are more expensive than I'd like both due to their size and because the basket-ropes use up a lot of space. A few years back Shapeways changed their pricing formula for WSF material to include "machine space", which is space around and inside the model. There used to be a fair number of skeletal and hollow designs on Shapeways like my old Bessoneau hangar frame and one-piece balloons. But when they started including machine-space in the price such designs were no longer economical to print since they were also charging you for hollow spaces in the model, rather than just the printed material. The rationale is that they can fit many more models into a block of powder if they can nest things together nicely.

    Here is a capture of their "machine space" tool on a Caquot balloon -- not only are you charged for the solid pieces but everything contained in the blue shell surrounding each of the three pieces. Once they started charging for machine space, a one-piece version of this design became prohibitively expensive, because the entire interior of the balloon was "blue space".

    All that aside, I have to say that balloon scenarios are some of my absolute favorites in WWI aero games.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  19. #19

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    I own many of your excellent aircraft.
    Thanks for designing them.



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