Friday, 26 July 2013

3D Printing - From New York to Melbourne

Today I noticed an interesting article on Quartz regarding 3D printing patents expiring and how that will impact the market.The article describes how with patents for Laser Sintering expiring in 2014, there will be an influx of cheaper machines making the technology more accessible to everybody. Much like what happened with Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), originally patented by Stratasys before expiring and MakerBot making it's mark. 

Several key points were raised and I would like to take this opportunity to explain things from a local Australian perspective.

POINT 1: With the end of patents comes an influx of low end machines to the market making home 3D printing more accessible, in this case for laser sintering. 

At this point it is important to note that that not all 3D printers are the same. A 3D printer, like those used by bureaus, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The resulting part will be of a much higher standard and quality than something produced at home on a machine that costs $500. Of course, being able to 3D print at home would be more than adequate for some people, it really depends on what is required from the resulting model.

POINT 2: In the article it mentions how Shapeways, based in New York, has a backlog which means waiting a couple of weeks to receive parts, an irony when 3D printing is supposed to make turnarounds faster than ever. This has been attributed to their bureau being unable to keep up with the high demand they receive for parts, and the wait they have on new 3D printers. 

There is no need to wait a couple of weeks if you are willing to look at other options. For example, at RapidPro, a totally Australian based and owned Additive manufacturing service bureau, parts are still able to be turned around within days ... yes, RapidPro may not always be able to compete with Shapeways on price, but the quality and turnaround times certainly warrants rethinking what is an acceptable price to pay for parts.

SUMMARY:  It is an interesting article which brings up many valid points pertaining to the future of 3D printing systems and the possible dispersal of this technology to all levels of the market. 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing are certainly gaining the fame and credit they deserve, both overseas and in Australia, but I feel that there will always be a place for the humble bureau service with it's high end machines, expert staff and professional finishing services.

By Marcelle Nankervis, Freelance Writer