I moderated a Radio Show on 3D printing the other day, and it gave me a pretty good education on the basics of this technology.
It's funny how many misconceptions there are about 3D printing and additive manufacturing. The first misconception is the difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing. While there are some subtle differences, most people use them interchangeably, and that's OK.
The second misconception is the cost of the technology. While you still aren't likely to have one of these printers located in your family den, the technology is definitely available to small and midsized businesses.
The third misconception is in the quality of the output. There are numerous examples where the output of the 3D printer ends up being the final product. Most people think that these systems are just for prototypes, but depending on the application, that may end up being your final part, especially if your run is very small.
Bottom line -- I learned a lot about this technology that's clearly here for the long haul.
Thanks for your summary on misconceptions, Richard – I certainly shared them until I started reading more about 3D printers on the Design News forums. I am very interested in this technology and the prospect of being able to utilize a third party at an affordable price to try it makes it even more enticing.
Rich, thanks for writing this and mentioning those misconceptions, as well as the facts about them. 3D printing and additive manufacturing have changed hugely in just the last year or two, as DN has been covering, and not everyone is aware of the state of the art.
One of the factors that would seem to restrict 3D printing to prototypes, or personalized products, is cost and speed of production. Anyone have an opinion on the maximum lot sizes that would be practical, from a cost viewpoint, with this technology?
Additive manufacturing is '3-D printing'; 3-D printing includes, but is not limited to, additive manufacturing.
I don't know how big is too big: 3-D printers are being used to 'print' auto body panels and subframes. Most additive and sintering devices use a 3-axis positioner to position the print head / nozzle so the upper limit is basically the same as for CNC mills, laser cutters and similar equipment. Of course, single point additive manufacturing will proceed at a rate at least proportional to the part volume. Sintering may be expedited by adding a laser scanning head. Powder composition can generally be made faster by using one or more ink jet print heads to deliver binders.
The main difference between 2-D and 3-D is an extra axis and gigapixels rather than megapixels of 'printing'.
Basic additive printers start at prices which are on a par with what ink jet printers were when they wer first introduced - certainly well within range of any avid hobbiest.
It will probably take some time for 3-D to become pervasive in manufacturing although it already is firmly established in 2-1/2 D applications like printed electronics, medical test strips, etc. For small volumes, it certainly cost competes against molded plastic parts or cast metal parts. I've certainly seen printed parts that came in at prices closer to molded part than to machined part equivalents.
I am new to the 3d Printing business having bought a hobby level machine last November but have been following the technology since its inception. The quality of the hobby machines have improved but perhaps not to the degree of the pro machines. The cost of the print and how long you are willing to wait drive the limit of maximum lot sizes. The cost of the material is almost insignificant. If I don't need to tweak or repair the model my time is spent only setting up and the removing the raft or support material. The biggest cost is whether I need to payback the machine cost and how busy I can keep it. Not unlike Hertz or Avis renting a car. If you can keep it rented 100 per cent of the 3 years you own it the per rental charge would be low. Assuming your model will only fit one per build and takes a few hours per build, I would be only able to print 2 or maybe 3 a day, so if you want 100 plan on waiting 30 days. On makexyz where I am listed, most are charging 25 cents per gram weight of product. A 25 gram custom cell phone case might end up costing $6.25 to me plus $5.50 to Makexyz for a total of $11.75 plus shipping. If it were a larger order I might ship included but at $6.25 it would eat up any profits. So your cost might approach the $19.99 you would pay for a cell phone case at most stores. But if it were uniquely yours in design you might want to go through the trouble of 3D printing it. And if you wanted 100 cell phone cases with your company logo in the design and provided the model, the cost would come down to easily less than $10 each including shipping them to you in one box. Just be ok with waiting those 30 days to get all of them. I suspect most commercial 3D printing companies charge based on what the market will bear (compared to subtractive methods) but my example will become more common as people start to look at the technology for everyday items and not just engineering prototypes where it all started.
I talk about cost models for 3d printing at my web site at JMS3DPrinting.com. You can plug in your own assumptions about labor and machine cost to arrive at an answer for your situation.
This is a nice start to a much-needed conversation about 3D printing. We are obsessed with new technology. And, almost compulsively take the part that easy to understand and blow it out of proportion.
As I've said many times here, the wow factor has taken over the reporting and understanding of this technology.
Will 3D printing replace mass manufacturing? Of course not. It's too slow. It will always be slower. But, IF material capabilities are improved, it will revolutionize consumerism.
3D printing is digital fabrication. Creating a thing from information. The far more interesting, and ignored, story is in digitizing materials and assemblage. One of the labs at MIT is currently working on this.
Actually, "self-replicating" printers have been around since 2009.
They don't actually completely make themselves, but these printers can be made of standard stock items like threaded rod, smooth rod, bearings, motors, and of course an electronics board.
The cheapest hobbyist printers are down to $300 now. These have a fairly small build volume and limited selection of materials, but they are a way for individuals to get their feet wet in this technology.
One commercial provider I've used is Shapeways. Their pricing is based on the cost of time and materials. Several others that I looked at were charging "what the market will bear" to the tune of 20X to 50X the Shapeways price. (I have no commercial interest or connection with Shapeways.)
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