The ability to have a 3D part in hand for design validation is something most would not argue is extremely valuable. If you are fortunate enough to have a 3D printer in house, the process is fairly easy to go from CAD to the print software.
For those of you who do not have the luxury of an in-house 3D printer or need to print something in a form or size that your own printer can't handle, Shapeways wants to help you out! Shapeways, an online 3D printing service bureau, allowing it's customers to upload, choose material and order models online.
Today Shapeways is making this process even easier for SolidWorks users by partnering with Design Solutions who have built an add-in for SolidWorks to submit models directly to your Shapeway's account.
The SolidWorks add-in is currently in beta and you can download it from Design Solutions' Shapeways page. The addin is about 1.3MB and is supported on both 32 and 64 bit operating systems. Once installed you will need to run a .BAT file in the install directory and detailed instructions are on the Shapeways Blog post.
The service works with solid geometry, so surface geometry and/or models are not uploaded to the Shapeways' servers and assemblies will need to be saved as a part. The add-in also gives the user STL settings (this is the format that is uploaded) but the actual STL file is not stored on the local machine. All the specifics about the add-in are in their blog post.
Shapeways offer a number of 3D printing services and technologies such as SLA (Sterolithography, FDM (Fused deposition modeling) and LOM (laminate object manufacturing). Once you are uploaded, can log into your Shapeways account and finish the process to get your part in hand! ~Lou