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商业 - 科技

Shapeways: 3D打印重塑制造业

Jessi Hempel 2013年05月20日

Shapeways公司是一家专门从事3D打印的公司,人们可以设计并利用Shapeways的高端3D打印机打印物品,比如打印一个自己设计的iPhone手机壳只需20美元。近期安德森•霍洛维茨基金领衔向该公司投资了3000万美元。

    Shapeways公司是一家专门从事3D打印的公司,人们可以设计并利用Shapeways的高端3D打印机打印物品,比如打印一个自己设计的iPhone手机壳只需20美元。近期安德森•霍洛维茨基金领衔向该公司投资了3000万美元。

    在离曼哈顿中城不远,坐地铁很快就可以到达的地方,彼得•魏玛豪森正在建造一座将重塑“大批量生产”定义的工厂。魏玛豪森是Shapeways公司的联合创始人兼首席执行官,这家公司专事让人们设计并订购利用高端3D打印机打印的物品。

    这不算什么新创意,但是从去年开始,3D打印重新变得炙手可热起来:2007年,当彼得在皇家飞利浦电子公司(Royal Philips Electronics)的孵化器里创办这家公司时,他要打印一个自己设计的iPhone手机壳需要支付高达500美元的费用。而现在在Shapeways公司,一个设计师只需付约20美元就够了。正是看到了这一前景,近期安德森•霍洛维茨基金(Andreessen Horowitz)领衔向该公司投资了3000万美元。

    在没有亲眼看到以前,是很难想象一台机器怎么能“打印”出一个iPhone手机壳的。因此,上周五下午,《财富》杂志(Fortune)派出一队记者和编辑奔赴长岛市,深入了解这项大规模生产技术。人们普遍认为这项技术前景看好,奥巴马在一月发布的国情咨文中还特地对此做了强调。

    Shapeways的工厂是去年秋季正式开建的,目前仍处于在建状态。我们参观了行政办公区,那里有六名看起来像是布鲁克林设计师的员工正在处理订单。他们将订单发往工厂,厂里目前已有六台机器投入了运行。当该厂建成时,机器总数将达到50台。

    在我们面前,一台体形庞大的机器正冒出股股热气。这种机器的大小和冰箱差不多。在机器内部,一个大小和我喜欢的红辣椒托盘相仿的长方形托盘上,正在逐层注入原材料细末。我们凑近观察窗细看发现:一层细末正被铺开。随后,一束激光在细末上烧蚀出几条线,把它加热到接近熔点以形成打印物。打好这个托盘上的东西需要24小时。

    目前,长岛市这家工厂只用白尼龙塑料打印物品,不过这并不会一成不变。Shapeways在它的其他工厂里,也能用其他材料打印物品——比如不锈钢、砂岩、陶瓷。该公司还在西雅图和荷兰的埃因霍温设有办公室。

    这种托盘所含物质的结构图就挂在每台打印机的右侧。魏玛豪森解释说,Shapeways通过将不同客户订单的要素加以匹配,能充分利用好每个托盘。这些图看起来像是3D声波图和“块魂”(katamari,一种视频游戏)结合的产物。这种优化处理能降低价格。每个托盘打印好后,员工就把它拿到后期制作区域,去掉所有没被激光封住的细末。最后得到的就是各种拼凑起来的部件,它们被弄干净后就被分开并抛光,整个过程很像考古学家在寻找骨骼。根据订单的要求,很多打印物品还会染上明快的色彩。

    A short subway ride from Midtown Manhattan, Peter Weijmarshausen is building a factory that reimagines mass production. Weijmarshausen is the co-founder and chief executive of Shapeways, a company that lets people design and order objects printed on high-end 3-D printers.

    It's not a new idea, but in the last year 3-D printing has become newly available: In 2007, when he first started the company within the incubator of Royal Philips Electronics, Weijmarshausen would have paid as much as $500 to print a self-designed iPhone case, for example. At Shapeways today, a designer will pay around $20. This promise recently spurred Andreessen Horowitz to lead a $30 million round of funding in the company.

    It's hard to imagine how a machine could "print" an iPhone case until you've seen it. So, last Friday afternoon a group of Fortune reporters and editors headed out to Long Island City for an inside look a the mass manufacturing technique considered so promising that President Obama called it out in his January State of the Union speech.

    The Shapeways factory officially opened last fall, but it's still under construction. We passed through the administrative area where a half-dozen Brooklyn designer types were fulfilling orders out to the factory floor where nine machines are up and running so far. When the factory is complete, there will be as many as 50.

    In front of us, one of these hulking machines gives off heat. It's the size of a refrigerator; inside, a rectangle tray the size of my favorite chili pan is being filled layer-by-layer with dust. We push our noses up to the small window to watch: A layer of dust is spread. Then, a laser burns a series of lines into the dust, heating it to the point of almost melting to form the object. It will take 24 hours for this chili-pan size tray to be complete.

    For now, the Long Island City factory only prints materials in a white nylon plastic, though that will change in time. Shapeways is able to manufacture in other materials -- stainless steel, sandstone, ceramics -- from its other facilities. The company also has offices in Seattle and Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

    A diagram of the tray's contents hangs to the right of each printer. Weijmarshausen explains that Shapeways maximizes each tray by pairing elements of different customer orders. These diagrams look like a cross between a 3-D sonogram and a katamari. This optimization brings the price down. Once the tray is completed, employees bring it over to a post-production area where they remove all the dust that hasn't been sealed by the laser. The result is a jumbled collection of parts that are cleaned and separated and buffed, much like bone-hunting archeology. Depending on the order, many are also dyed in bright hues.

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