Beth, just like all other electronic devices, these are coming down in price and increasing in features. Our school district spent $30K a year or two ago for a 3D printer for the STEM program. There are three high schools in the district, and they share the printer. It is a useful tool. But now it looks like they could have something better for much less. Well, I guess the next one they buy will be something like this. You would be suprised at what these students are coming up with.
At $30K for a single printer, the school system could now purchase three pretty comparable units for the three high schools. Your district is foresighted enough to invest in this technology and I'm hoping my school district will soon do the same. This technology is sure to captivate kids and inspire them to do great things.
Maintenance and material costs for these printers, at least Objet, are really high. A full set of print material is about $800 for 2kg of solid and support material, and yearly "maintenance" is about $4000. You have to buy new materials every year because it expires, and you'll probably need the maintenance because the printers break easily.
We have had an Objet printer for 3 years now and it's been down about 30% of the time. When the system is working it produces quality parts, but the maintenance and operational costs are prohibitive. If a school system wants a 3D printer, they should look at other lower-maintenance systems.
The frustration and lost time working with our 3D printer has really soured my opinion of the technology, but I suspect it has more to do with this mfg and associated service reps than with the technology itself. We had one problem where the ribbon cable connecting the print head to the rest of the printer was scraping against a sharp edge inside the printer and eventually failed, but Objet said it was not a manufacturing defect, so wouldn't cover repair costs. This reflects poorly on the company, IMO.
Aside from those difficulties, it's really convenient to have a design and "just" print it. I say "just" because there's a non-trivial amount of pre and post processing to get a usable model out of these printers. On the preprocessing side, you save your solid model to stl format, run ObjetStudio to place and orient the model on the print table, and then spin up the print manager to start printing. On the post processing end, you have to scrape the part off the table, clean the printer (table, print heads, etc) and then clean the part, which requires a high pressure wash station. It takes about 30 minutes minimum plus print time for a single run.
Whether these printers are worth the trouble of ownership probably depends on your application. If you're doing parts that can be easily machined by a 3-4 axis CNC mill, you'd probably be better off using a service such as FirstCut which can get parts to you in 1-3 days. However, more complex parts are going to be pricey for prototyping. It's also really handy for small, non-structural parts that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive if machined, even in quantity.
I think that if Objet had better quality control and support I would be inclined to favor 3D printing, but unless it's just a vendor problem, I don't think the technlogy is there yet.
Again, I'd have to say, "it depends". In a research lab where you're doing quick-turn development, quick and dirty is nice. If I don't need the strength of subtractive manufacturing (CNC machining), 3D printing is on par for accuracy. In my case I often use the 3D printer to create structurally adequate adapter plates to mount, say, a pan/tilt mechanism to a mobile robot base. I can knock out one in a couple hours whereas as with FirstCut I'd have to wait 3 days unless I want to pay a premium. I'm basically eliminating the middle man and saving both time and cost.
However, If I want to support a heavy load, Objet's VeroWhite material is not suitable because the plastic flows over time. It's good for fit checks, but if you have bearings or other loads such as pulleys or gears, the plastic will deform in hours. Hence, you're going to have to get the parts fabricated in a more traditional material for commercial product development to do serious testing or for even moderate loads.
Bottom line, the printer makes it easy to iterate a physical design quickly until you settle on a design that you feel is ready for more rigorous testing.
Unfortunately, our Object printer (Alaris30) doesn't support those new materials. In fact, at only 3 years old, our product isn't mentioned on the Objet website, not even on the disconued products page. Can't really afford to spend $50000 every three years for a new 3D printer, so I'm stuck in this 3D printer uncanny valley.
Sorry to hear and I do sympathize with your concerns. Actually though, the Alaris30 is on the website - but we simply updated the name - it's now the Objet30. It has a range of 5 materials - including the DurusWhite material which has more durability for 'snap-fit' parts than the Vero family that perhaps you could try. The latest upgrade allows you to turn your Alaris30 into the latest Objet30 Pro - with 7 materials including clear transparency and high-temperature resistant material. Actually - Objet is the only company offering customers the ability to upgrade printers - and at an affordable cost. In the meantime- our smallest Connex system was introduced last year - the Objet260 Connex - with a similar size tray to the Objet30. It's not upgradeable from the Objet30 simply because this advanced material is actually a composite - and is created during the printing process only on the multi-material Connex system. However, our materials are improving all the time and I'm certain, with our growing list of upgrade options, that you'll get plenty more ROI from your Objet printer in the coming years! Why not speak to your Objet dealer to see if the Alaris30 upgrade to Objet30 Pro will work for you? Or you can contact me on email@example.com for any more info that you may need. Regards, Sam.
@BTWolfe: I've heard similar reports about the high cost of maintenance and materials for 3D printers, not just Objet models. That's definitely something engineering groups need to consider when shelling out for the technology.
I worked in the appliance industries for 20 plus years and "additative" manufacturing would have been a marvelous addition to our "model shop" and parts creation ability. At GE, we had several phases of engineering design; namely DG (design guidance), DC (design confirmation), PP (pre-pilot), pilot and production. The DG and DC phases were pretty much cut-and –try with model after model being built to test for form, fit and function. 3-D printing would have reduced time to part to hours instead of days. The very fact that newer materials are available is another great feature from OBJET and their developing technology. I certainly appreciate the comments about the cost of materials, downtime and maintenance. A typical model shop can be an abusive place when equipment is being used and, from your comments, the 3-D printer is somewhat delicate. Many thanks for the information.
Kids will definitely find applications for 3D printers when the price hits the right point. Remember when people asked why they would need a PC? In the beginning, the standard response was, "You can store recipes with it." Luckily, we've found other applications for PCs since then.
Glad to see Objet coming out with a smaller, economy version. I really liked the fine part detail from the previous version of this printer and I anticipate this product will produce good detail as well.
Material replacement costs can be a little on the pricey side, but prudent use of the machine and the savings in development time can certainly help offset these expenditures.
I just want to clarify a point around pricing on this printer. The base model in the Objet30 Pro series starts at $19.9K, but this particular model, which is higher end and delivers more material choices in addition to other functionality, starts at $43K. So I was mistaken earlier when I said Naperlou's school district could buy three of these for the price of one 3D printer it purchased earlier. Sorry for any confusion.
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