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In 2016 for the first edition of this book we stated that people were comparing the then-current state of 3D
printing to where personal computers were in the 1980s. Now in the second edition of this book we can
report….that things have only marginally gotten better. Printing at home is still fraught with problems where
your prints may fail for any number of reasons, leaving you with troubleshooting and reprinting. 3D Printer
manufacturers have started to build in more intelligence to their hardware and software (Prusa being one
such notable company), but 3D printing is nothing like a microwave oven, where you push some buttons and
your activity will be successful every time.
After reading the chapters on FDM and SLA technology you might have a preference to either own a 3D
printer or to outsource the 3D printing to someone else. If you aren’t sure, this chapter will help you decide.
Even if you choose to own a 3D printer, this chapter will still be relevant to you. We compare the differences
between FDM and SLA, and chances are someday you may want a 3D print in a material that your printer
doesn’t support, in which case outsourcing the printing may be necessary.
Let’s compare the different technologies and options to help you decide what process fits your needs best. We will
look at home printing versus outsourced printing and make distinctions between FDM and SLA, as well as con-
sumer versus professional outsourcing (Figure 7-1). Please note that these are generalizations. You can receive
professionally outsourced prints as quickly as next-day if you are willing to pay double (or more) the printing cost
for expedited service. With resin printing, you can mix different ratios of resins together to get the material prop-
erties you are seeking, which is a unique feature of that type of 3D printing. The chart in Figure 7-1 describes the
“basic” comparisons of some variables.
For many, 3D printing will never happen at home. After all, it is very easy to submit a 3D model online, and
have your object arrive on your doorstep 7–10 days later. That object, however, will be printed on a 3D printer
that may cost anywhere from $60,000 to $1,000,000.
FIGURE 71: The advantages and disadvantages of home versus outsourced 3D printing
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The graph in Figure 7-1 shows that outsourcing your 3D printing jobs eliminates the need for printer setup,
though at an added cost of production and shipping time. When you send a 3D model away for production,
you don’t have to set up the printer and monitor the print as it’s being produced. You also get the benefit of
having more material choices. Speed of delivery is less attractive because you have to wait for your print to
be mailed to you, and the cost is higher because you are paying for material and someone’s else’s time. If
you are willing to put up with some failed prints (and the time it takes to restart the print and troubleshoot
why the print failed), then you can typically print several iterations of an object in the time it would take for
an outsourced vendor to return a single print to you.
But the highest benefit of outsourcing is that it allows consumers to create objects of the highest levels of
quality on some of the most expensive machines in the market. The quality of those prints can be near “pro-
duction quality,” making this not only an attractive approach but necessary for some applications.
Many businesses could benefit from custom-created 3D printed products. Promotional giveaways, rapid
prototypes of a new product, creation of visual props for sales calls, and many other examples show the
value of 3D printing. But not all these companies have in-house CAD designers and 3D printers. They want
to participate in the benefits of 3D printing but can’t allocate the financial and time resources to bringing on
staff for it. That’s where outsourcing really has its benefits.
Luckily, there are many options for outsourcing, and it offers an alternative to otherwise costly productions
that would be out of the question for many consumers and businesses. For our clients that need 3D printing,
they are happy to consult with experts in case they need a specialized material.
Consumer-focused 3D printing services like Shapeways, shown in Figure 7-2, and Sculpteo, shown in
Figure 7-3 as shown on the next page, offer lower costs than the more professional alternatives by having
the quoting process automated, and they also offer a wide range of materials and a more accessible order-
ing process. Businesses are using these companies to make rapid prototypes and small production runs.
If you need specialized techniques or absolute precision in your final model, then moving to a more busi-
ness-oriented outsourced 3D printing service bureau might be a good option. FathomMFG, headquartered
in Oakland, California (Figure 7-4) offers not only 3D printing, but production film level prototyping and final
part design for high end projects (as well as smaller ones):
Experts focused on accelerated prototype fabrication & Low- to High-Volume Production Part
Additive, Traditional, & Hybrid Manufacturing Expertise with an Industry-Leading Advantage of
3D Printing, Additive Manufacturing, CNC Machining, Urethane Casting, Tooling, & Injection Molding
FIGURE 71: The advantages and disadvantages of home versus outsourced 3D printing
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Another option is Forecast3D, shown in Figure 7-5. Just like FathomMFG above, Forecast3D does not have
a repository of designs you can purchase like Shapeways and Sculpteo, but it is focused on more high-end
fabrication technologies and larger volume production runs for customers with specific mechanical and
physical properties requirements.
Forecast3D not only creates high quality individual parts but caters to using additive manufacturing for
low-volume production runs. Before additive manufacturing, “low-volume production runs’’ were meant to
FIGURE 72: Shapeways home page
FIGURE 73: Sculpteo home page
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be in tens of thousands of units, and there really was not an economical method for runs of a few hundred to
a few thousand units. Companies like Forecast3D specialize in high quality smaller runs, as well as offering
multi-thousand item manufacturing services that challenge traditional injection molding, in terms of the
number of units they can create.
There are also more local options available. A service named 3DHubs has a network of printers around the
FIGURE 74: FathomMFG home page
FIGURE 75: Forecast3D home page
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