3-D printers have revolutionized small-scale independent product design. Now, Shapeways wants to super-size it.
The Dutch rapid-prototyping juggernaut recently acquired a shiny new selective laser sintering machine capable of popping out stuff that's more than twice the size of what you could make before. The printer, which works by building 3-D objects layer by layer, manufactures pieces that are up to 28 inches wide by 23 inches tall and 15 inches deep — about as big as a fish tank.
That's a huge deal for Shapeways's designers. Used to be, if you wanted to SLS something much larger than a shoebox, you had to print it out in pieces then somehow paste 'em all together. Now, you can create objects, whether a lamp or the world's biggest 3-D printed Rubik's Cube, that are totally seamless. It's also perfect for architects, who can rapid-prototype complete 3-D models quickly and easily (instead of forcing the poor intern to do everything by hand).
One drawback: You lose some of the resolution you get with more compact machines. But it involves a fraction of a millimeter and it won't matter much, unless you're printing something like this.