Friday, November 30, 2012

3d Printer Purchase

I visited NYC in June and used a 3d printer at a hackerspace for the first time.  Before that moment, my experience with 3d printing was very much at a distance.  I did research on buying one, then stopped when a very smart mechanical engineer friend told me it was a bad idea.  3d prints I sent to customers were primarily through shapeways.com and occasionally through i.materialise.com

Actually seeing a 3d printer in person, isn't as sexy as watching someone hand craft a really funky scarf.  This experience doesn't really compare to that at all.  It is more like speaking something into existence and watching your words be built 1 millimeter at a time.

There are downsides to 3d printing like having to stop a print when you see it isn't structurally sound or needing to file down prototypes, and even making sure everything is level takes quite a bit of work, but the end result is slightly warm and quite beautiful.  It would be similar to holding a newborn baby if you happened to be printing a plastic toy baby.

The huge epiphany came when Dave, owner of hack manhattan (only hackerspace in NYC that welcomed me in, let me use their gear for free), asked me how much I was paying to print stuff at shapeways.
Dave was a quiet british guy and very nice, but he almost spit his sandwich into the window when I told him typical prices for materials.  Then he told me how much printing my 3 small items cost.  It wasn't more than a dollar.

Granted he had to calibrate all surfaces to be level and fix some wiring the previous user had left, but when everything was right, the process and price were undeniably impressive.

Even with those low prototype prices, the cost of plastic spool can be reduced even more once a decent way to turn plastic pellets (or recyclable plastic shards) into a spool of plastic.

It's also good to know that some plastic is biodegradable, carbon-neutral, and based from fermented corn starch.

I'm not going to rely solely on this machine to make product, but I will use it to divert more time into packaging and figuring out how to making things people want.  This may even be a starting point for new exploration others have already shown is very beautiful.

I haven't purchased it yet, but I'm lining up my resources to place an order for the Ultimaker before the year ends.