Shapeways really is a game changer for 3D printing. It makes 3D printing accessible and affordable for everyone around the world. It uses large industrial 3D printers to increase the economies of scale. It should be viewed as a completely different concept as the desktop 3D printing as it creates very high quality prints. It has over 30 materials including gold and silver.
The real exciting part about Shapeways is the ability to create a shop and to sell your designs to the world. The customer buys your design Shapeways print it and deliver it to them. This idea of the new industrial revolution involves the democratization of invention, now anyone with a computer and CAD package (many of which are free and easy to learn) can now create a design and sell it to the world. There is no investment, no stock and no distribution.
It can be used to test the water for a product made by traditional measures, to see if there is interest in your product first before making an investment and some have gone on to mass manufacture from it such as this The Rocket Cup
Although the designs are still constrained by some of the limitations of 3D Printing and the cost but it is an amazingly creative and easy avenue to sell your ideas to the world. I feel like this is only the beginning and Shapeways will continue to grow and expand its options empowering designer to create.