We often have potential clients who are interested in having a prototype or model made with a 3D Printer. However they don't know if 3D printing is the way to build their project better, faster, stronger and at a lower cost. Our experience is that 3D printing can alternatively be not as good, slower, less durable and at a higher cost. It depends on a lot of factors. You need to learn more about 3D printing and it helps to discuss your project with a professional model maker.
Two of the best websites to learn all about 3D printing are www.additive3d.com and www.prototypetoday.com . Those two comprehensive websites give you lots of information on the whole field of 3D printing.
You can also order a informative book "Printing the Future" by Ed Grenda from his website at http://www.additive3d.com/pub_bks.htm .
To get a perspective on 3D printing you should think about it as three categories - 3D printing of prototypes and models, 3D printing of manufactured products and 3D printing for personal fabrication. That is also the order in which those three categories developed.
3D Printing of prototypes and models and 3D Printing of manufactured products
The two largest manufacturers of professional 3D printers are 3Dsystems at www.3dsystems.com and STRATASYS at www.stratasys.com . They make 3D Printers for all three categories of 3D printing. In January, 2014 at the CES show in Las Vegas 3Dsystems had a number of new product announcements and those products are featured on this 54 minute youtube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWnmzn1rl8A . It will give you some idea of the range of 3D printing products in the marketplace. NOTE that both 3Dsystems and Stratasys recently purchased companies that make 3D printers for personal fabrication and more recently created new 3D printers for personal fabrication.
The RAPID show organized by SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) is the main conference and tradeshow for companies and institutions to see the vendors of the larger professional 3D printers used for large 3D prints and in metal as well as plastic.
Since the middle 1980's when 3D printing started 3D printers were very expensive so companies and institutions that could afford it bought 3D printers and the CAD (computer-aided design) software so their model shop or an independent professional model shop with the right software and 3D printer could make their prototypes and models. About 7 years ago the least expensive professional 3D printer was about $15,000.00.
3D Printers for personal fabrication
3D Printers for personal fabrication sell mostly fom $400.00 to $5,000.00. There are now over 100 different 3D printers for personal fabrication available. By January, 2009 the first two 3D personal fabricator machines were being sold as kits for about $800.00 each. To get a review of many of these 3D printers for personal fabrication that are now available see http://www.additive3d.com/3dpr_cht.htm . Also order from MAKE magazine their latest annual review of 3D printers at http://makezine.com/volume/guide-to-3d-printing-2014 which compares 23 of the more popular low end 3D Printers.
3D Printer for personal fabrication - Form 1 hi resolution 3D printer
However if you buy a 3D Printer you still have to purchase and learn how to use the CAD software to create the files for the product that you want to 3D print. Alternatively you could use CAD drawings that are available on www.thingiverse.com or similar websites and you can print them. However most people want to create something unique.
There are also companies that can do your 3D printing for you. One very successful company is Shapeways at www.shapeways.com . Shapeways has 3D printers for smaller personal fabrication and also have larger professional machines that can print in plastic or metal. You can even set up your own store on Shapeways to sell what you have made. They will accept orders for you, produce your printed product, ship it and collect the payment for you. The Shapeways byline is "Make, Buy and Sell Custom Products with 3D Printing. One store example hosted by Shapeways is www.bathsheba.com .
Another alternative is to go to a store like the 3D Printer Experience in Chicago at www.the3dprinterexperience.com or a shop like TechShop (a expanding nationwide chain) that sells education classes and charges you to use (or have them use) one of their 3D printers or other machines. To find these places go to the Maker Map at www.themakermap.com , check off the filter box for retail, museums, etc. and zoom in on the red location dot. As you zoom in the name and address, etc. will appear on a pop up.
Then click on what you want to find like Retail and then zoom in on the red dot in the location you prefer and the name, address, etc. will pop up.
Getting the best possible prototype or model
Large corporations often have their own industrial design department and model shop. They can study how users might use a new product and create prototypes to test the idea with potential users. Alternatively they may hire an independent industrial design firm like IDEO which also has a model shop. If you have a large budget then hiring an industrial design firm might be a good option for you.
However the top down process of creating a new product is now competing with the bottoms up process since individuals and smaller companies or institutions now have computers and tools such as person fabricators as well as funding mechanisms like Kickstarter available to help them to create new products at an affordable price.
Hiring a professional model shop to work with you on your prototypes and models should add a new dimension to the discussions and increase the odds of creating a successful product. Working with a professional model shop is often a affordable option. Their expertise will greatly improve the final product. Which is the best way to make your product better, faster, stronger and at a lower cost? 3D printing may or may not be the right answer for how to make your prototype or model.
Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or firstname.lastname@example.org .