What do rapid prototyping machines have in common with private jets? Alex Linde sums ups the connection in two words: “fractional ownership.”
Linde is the president of Tangible Express, a new company that offers the first fractional ownership program for rapid prototyping machines. Tangible's facility in Utah currently hosts a lineup of machines from 3D Systems. Thirteen are stereolithography (SLA) machines, six of which have dual build platforms. And four are 3D Systems’ selective laser sintering (SLS) machines. Owning these machines outright involves price tags well into the six figures. “Plus there are ongoing ownership costs,” Linde says. “Lots of people want to use these high end prototyping machines but can’t justify the cost.”
With Tangible’s service, users can purchase shares in a machines for as little as $7,500. That one-time cost buys a 1/128 share. Tangible also sells larger shares in multiples of 1/16th. Users also pay roughly $25 per cubic inch of part.
Now $7,500 may sound pricey considering that you can get rapid prototyping service bureaus to turn out parts for well under $100. And some observers of the prototyping industry privately express doubt that fractional ownership makes sense for this kind of equipment.
But Linde argues that fractional ownership has its privileges. “What you get is guaranteed capacity when you need it. You have complete control over production,” he says. The 1/128 share, for example, provides 75 cubic inches of guaranteed capacity per year. Depending on part geometry, that translates to about 20 hours of build time. A 1/16 share would provide 1,000 cubic inches of capacity per year.
Linde also says that Tangible's multi-machine environment and hosted ownership model allow users to reduce the ongoing costs of operating a high-end prototyping machine. “We eliminate the need to hire, train and pay operators,” he says. “We also eliminate overhead costs for things such as maintenance and facilities.”
Of course, overhead never really goes away. Tangible does charge a monthly fee for hosting the machine. But users can avoid the fee completely by meeting negotiated minimum build volumes. At that point, the charge per cubic inch built covers everything. “Basically fractional ownership doesn’t make sense unless you’re going to be building parts,” he says.
The cost of running a high-end prototyping system are one reason that Linde has no plans to expand to simpler office modelers and 3D printing systems in the future. “We don’t think the value is there if just anyone can run the machine,” he says.
But look for Tangible to move beyond prototype production and into direct digital manufacturing. Linde notes that the company’s SLS and larger SLA machines are a good fit for direct digital. “We already have a couple of customers who have done some manufacturing,” he says. “It’s something you’ll see a lot more of in the future.”