I can see that it would work very welll for a hobby type of application and also for producing replacement parts, but I wonder how secure it would be if I were to submit a design for a prototype of part for some not-yet-patented invention. There are bound to be a few places that would be very pleased to capitalize on somebody else's invention for their own profit. So probably some sort of nondisclosure agreement would be in order. But it would also be wise to not use any source located in a country with a poor IP security reputation.
On-Line outsourcing for SLAs and other 3D printing services have been available for quite a few years now. Most have an automated website that provides instant quotes, derived from the volume of the part requested, the specific material you select from a list, and the date of delivery you are seeking, considering queue-time and expediting fees. Simply upload the part data file (in .STL format), make the selections, and a real-time quote is available for you to present to your Program Management team (or whichever money guys hold the purse)
A partial list of companies I use regularly ,,,, (free advertising for them !)
6. Quantumleap.cc (note the .CC)
On the subject of Cost – for a single piece-part approximately the size of a thimble, typical cost runs only about $25. For a bigger part, roughly the size of a computer-mouse or digital camera, parts can be made for about $125.
Regarding less-technical users wanting to submit designs in data formats not everyone has access to --- well, I would think the designs would not be very suitable to print or build if they originated in a software that doesn't output an .STL , IGES or .STEP file, (all industry standard file types)
Costs are reasonable, and choices are wide and varied. Personally, I could never afford to own a printer when I have so many competing sources offering various exotic materials and competitive pricing, all professionally sourced.
Hmm. Interesting potential application, Nadine. Yet I wonder what selection of materials would be available in outsourced 3D printing. As for getting it to the masses, there is one industry that doesn't require masses in order to succeed: the military.
I see an issue in that these printers take 3D CAD files which come from programs that not everyone has. I imagine there will be companion businesses cropping up that will convert your 2D drawings to 3D, then coordinate with the printer owners for time. The opportunities are virtually endless.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.