Monday, January 13, 2014

Printing Service Bureaus

I will be the first to admit that sometimes my Prusa i2 just doesn't cut it.Certain part geometries are horrendously prone to warp. Thin wall and knife edge features have no strength or rigidity and at times do not fuse together properly.

In addition to the issues above there are also significant problems with overhangs (and let's face it, no one likes cleaning support during post processing).

Sure we have ways of overcoming these issues by varying speed and process settings or in the extreme we go full crazy and "pre-slice" prints to eliminate overhangs completely.

When all else fails or we don't want to risk weak joints due to assembling  individual parts into a final product, there is an additional (albeit much more expensive) option. The use of third party service bureaus can allow a designer to get strong parts (near injection molded strength with SLS), with great surface finish, and improved features.

Though there are many "pros" to using a service bureau there are also drawbacks. The model printed above was purchased through Shapeways so let's compare there service to a reprap:

This matrix shows Shapeways as the clear winner but upon closer inspection there are certainly some drawbacks to the Shapeways process. At $22.00/cu. in the resin cost will quickly overshadow the reprap initial investment, especially when doing iterative design. Also when designing a system, waiting two weeks for parts can be an eternity. With those reasons in mind I use reprap for primary development and Shapeways for special cases.