I've been writing about safety and common sense for the last two months. For this blog entry, I feel like jumping on the 3D printing bandwagon. Don't want to feel left out!
In July, Design News blogger Todd Grimm wrote about purchasing a Rapman 3D printer and the problems he encountered just purchasing it. Hopefully, Todd has overcome all these difficulties and has been too busy printing objects to tell us about the success.
Todd took the route everyone would like to take -- that of owning your own 3D printer. But do you really have to own it? My first exposure to the possibilities of 3D printing was using Solidworks 2006 from Dassault Systems. The software had a command to send my 3D model to a 3D printing service via the Internet. I like the idea in theory, but not the reality. I had no idea what printing service I would get, how long the turnaround time would be, or what the results would be.
There are many more 3D printing services around than there were in 2006, and from what I've seen in my research, they mostly provide "mail-in" service. You upload your 3D model and have the resultant 3D print mailed to you. Some promise a turnaround as quick as three days. That's pretty rapid, but you've still got the shipment delay, plus any delay caused by problems with the model.
I've also seen 3D printer rental offerings. That might be useful if you want to do multiple print jobs in a short amount of time. The drawbacks that I see are high costs in money and time. You have to go through the labor of setup and installation without getting to keep the machine.
Recently, I've come across another option for 3D printing. This one satisfies the "instant gratification" of taking the finished print out of the machine. It helps to deal with print problems, and it eliminates the cost of ownership.
A Seattle company called Metrix Create:Space is offering a variety of fabrication tools, including 3D printing. The difference is that you do the work. Metrix provides the equipment, and you provide the design and labor. The published cost is $0.50/minute, materials inclusive. The hours are equally interesting -- this "store" is open seven days a week, from 12 noon to 12 midnight. How many readers have done some of their most creative work after dinner?
This is a fascinating business model. It reminds me of my first exposure to Kinkos copies while in college (it was open late, let you walk in to do your own copying, and had other related services). The services offered at Metrix are rather eclectic, too -- 3D printing, laser cutting, sewing machines, a soldering room, a vending machine with candy and project materials, events, and workshops. According to its Website, "Part techshop, Part hackerspace, Part coffeeshop, Open to the public on a busy retail strip (Broadway, Seattle WA), Metrix Create:Space asks, 'What can you make?'" This sort of service is exactly what a small company might need for a breakthrough prototype without breaking the bank on capital equipment.
I am not a shill. I have no relationship with Metrix Create:Space, and I get no compensation from it. I simply love this outside-the-box idea of being able to have a cutting-edge technology like 3D printing available without having to own the hardware. And I love being able to have my 3D print in my hand within hours, not days.