Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Print 3D

A quick and easy way to get parts rapid prototyped directly from your CAD software.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to drive a little free advertising to my engineering and design consulting business. If it ever gets off the ground, one of my goals of expansion was to be a rapid prototyping service provider simply because it doesn't take a prophet to realize that rapid manufacturing is going to be the standard of the future. Why not get into the ground floor?

Short of the initial capital expenditure in buying the RP equipment, my other problem is finding space to house the equipment. Well, those are actually the easy issues to resolve. The difficult issue is overcoming the competition by providing better, faster, and cheaper service than everyone else, especially when the services can be easily outsourced to less expensive parts of the world. Say for example... India.

How does one do this?
1) Provide a safe and secure online mechanism to upload CAD (or STL) models.
2) Provide on online quote mechanism that gives instant quotes, or at least 24 hour turn-arounds.
3) Provide accurate finished parts within a short period of time (preferably 24 hours + shipping).

I have to admit that when meeting these 3 items, my abilities would fall short and it is yet another reason I have yet to expand into this arena. But, it certainly looks like Deelip has done so by founding Print 3D Corporation.

Print 3D Corp has done everything correctly.
1) They provide a free plug-in to most CAD systems making uploading safe, secure, and very easy, using native CAD geometry (no STL translation on the user end**).
2) Part of the plug in provide instant quoting.
3) Part of the plug in provides signing up for an account with Print 3D making payment easy.
4) Incredibly fast turn around, with user choice of delivery options.

So the only question remains, Deelip, how good is the quality of the finished part? And, why did you choose an example of a handgun assembly for your instruction page?

The only thing lacking from Print 3D is the option for the user to choose material, finish, and color of the RP part. That may be a limitation of the plugin, or just a limitation on available RP hardware. Either way, it's room for improvement.

**Footnote, Print 3D made a wise decision having the user send native CAD files and performing the STL translation internally. A bad translation, or one where the user ignored options, could easily set the finished part too course or too fine, thus affecting delivery and end-item quality. Only experienced RP operators should translate to STL because they know what settings work best for their equipment. If an RP operator only accepts STL files, make sure - as an end user - to strictly define your finished product and work with the RP provider before hand to be certain the STL file you provide is capable of meeting your final requirement.