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Who uses a 3D printer? Who would like one but can't afford it?

Discussion in 'Design and technology' started by modelmaker, Nov 24, 2008.

  1. modelmaker

    modelmaker Occasional commenter

    I was sent an interesting article today on how to build your own. For the very keen, the article suggests it could be achievable at around £500. You can buy a kit of parts and if you're prepared to put in the hours to make it work that's not at all bad.

    On the other hand, if you could raise 10 times that amount with a guaranteed result and no long hours fretting over it coupled with good quality support would that be an attractive proposition?
  2. Be wary of building your own. Have seen lots of positive articles about these, making bits from chocolate etc, hot glue and silicone, but I believe they need a lot of experience to make work and maintain, and results are generally blobby. Bear in mind that people would usually show the best results on their webpages / articles.

    I suspect that such machines, I heard Hitachi and Toshiba are due to launch commercial ones soon, will be available, but to start with still out of the reach of most of us.

    Interestingly, if 3D printing does substantially come down in price so anyone can use it, you will still need good ICT and graphics skills to draw the thing in the first place! Otherwiser you will be expensively copying things you could buy locally or order.

    Have you considered one of the growing number of online manufacturing services? Great for custo robot parts. emachineshop springs to mind.

    Option B is to build a part our of laser cut sheets of corrugated card. Use the correct grade and it is incredibly strong.

    AJ Booker - Consultant
  3. modelmaker

    modelmaker Occasional commenter

    The article I was reading was for machines that extrude plastic. There is a thriving community developing these machines, the open source software that run them and lots of university involvement taking place around the globe. You can buy a kit of parts or you can manufacture a lot of the bits the bits yourself.

    To be frank, I'd rather build one and understand exactly how the machine worked than be at the beck and call of a supplier who could only tinker around when the machine didn't work.

    Interestingly, much of the development revolves around recycling plastics, so if that proves to be viable it will be very interesting.

    Rather than dismiss the concept out of hand and spend my time trying to convince kids corrugated card is just as good as the real thing, I'd personally like to find out more.

    However, there are a lot of companies selling 3D printing machines to schools now. Have any of you found them invaluable yet?
  4. We looked at the low cost machines but the resolution in terms of fine detail isn't great. However as a 'build' project it would be very interesting.

    One of the things that put us off was potential issues with calibration and how that might drift, reducing the accuracy of each build.

  5. My school will have a U-Print for sale as of next May with hardly any use on it. Was bought with a windfall of cash but rarely used as it takes too long to produce models. You have to leave them running overnight to get the jobs done as they can take two to three hours for a decent model. Multiply that by a class and you'll see why we shy away from using it. Interestingly, at the latest D & T show very few stands were demonstrating these machines.
    Looks great when trying to sell the school to parents though.
  6. I have seen one of these built in a school and it is an interesting project, but how worthwhile it is depends on what you want out of it.

    The one I saw did work, but it was plagued with reliability issues, finding home, material getting clogged in the nozzles etc. It was built themselves using the laser cutter and the parts that came with the kit, and it was a good project to build and taught the kids a lot about the fundamentals of how rapid prototypers work. But ultimately, the reliability, inaccuracy and poor resolution meant it was not used much. This same school also had a professional Dimension 3D printer (this was a public secondary school, btw), and this was used far more. Thats not to say it did not break down, but it could be fixed by a serviceman pretty quickly, and eventually the workshop technician learnt a bit about what was causing failures and how to help prevent them. Saying that, the machine and the material cost a lot.

    So in my opinion, it comes down to what you want it for. If you want a cheap example that shows how Fusion Deposit Modelling works and that can make some basic shapes then go for the make-your-own option. But if you really want to use the complex parts that a rapid prototyper can make, then invest in a proper machine.

    A way that this school got round the cost and time it takes to make loads of identical models was to make one model, then use that to make a silicon mould, and cast parts from that in a whole range of materials, even pewter. This was quicker, cheaper and demonstrated an extra process. As for unique parts, I dont think the long build times were ever an issue because they could just get on with something else. You will be hard pressed to find a decent resolution FDM machine that builds anything bigger than a golf ball within a half an hour lesson. They are getting quicker though.
  7. I attended the DT show and I did see plenty of the 'cheaper' 3D printers.


    I have also been looking at makerbots- http://www.makerbot.com/.

    You can download dxfs to laser cut your own: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:13559
    or download stls to print your own: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3285
  8. timbdesign

    timbdesign New commenter

    I've seen losts of Fused Deposition Modelling machines in schools and professional machines like the HP uPrint do what they say on the tin and produce good quality, robust models. The machines are high precision devices that keep the build space at close to the melting point of the ABS plastic so each new layer stands a good chance of fusing with the previous layer. The winning teams in the Scalextric4Schools Challenge for the last two years used Dimension/HP uPrint bodies and chassis which stood up to the rigours of slot car racing without any problems. Factor in a service contract and funds for the consumables which can be high.
    The kits and low cost machines I've seen are lower resolution and build at room temperature so models can suffer from lack of fusing between layers. The BIts from Bytes 3000 machine (now part of 3D Systems) is a good compromise and I have Scalextric4Schools bodies created by the factory and they are perfectly usable. Factor in time to maintain the machine yourselves and set this against much cheaper consumables and models.
    Make sure your machine has twin heads so you have build material and support material otherwise the shapes you can create will be limited.
    THe old saying still holds good "You get what you pay for".

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