It is no secret that we use 3D printing in our business, and have been printing our original product designs on our own 3D printers. As we prepare to bring some of those products to market, we have been searching for a service company to expand our printing capacity as needed. In this WTFFF?! episode, Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard interview David Feeney, the CEO and Founder of SD3D, a service business that has gone from a garage startup in late 2012 to a legitimate short run production facility today. This interview is a great case study in what it takes to start a 3D print service business. David has experienced challenges along the way, optimizing the process of sending prints to one of the machines in the farm and customizing the hardware of the machines to perform as needed in a production environment.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print Services: Challenge Accepted With David Feeney Of SD3D
We had a short episode where we talked about our experience at the San Diego Maker Faire, which is a bit of a disappointing experience for us, quite honestly. One of the bright spots of that day was that we came across this company called SD3D, which is a local San Diego 3D print service bureau or maybe you might call them an outsource printer, low volume production that run anything from 1 to 1,000 pieces. We were quite intrigued by them.
We should also say that’s been a common amount. One thousand pieces, we’re hearing for most prints is the breaking point between whether you should hit to mass production or stay in 3D printing,
If you’re going to produce over 1,000 of something, and depending on whether it’s in the US or overseas, over 1,000 is where you should start considering spending dollars on tooling for whether it be injection molding or some other plastic manufacturing process. Under 1,000, 3D printing can meet your needs for the majority of products. There are so many materials available. We had the opportunity to have a more detailed interview with David Feeney, the CEO and Founder of SD3D. Let’s go to that interview and we’ll talk about some more after.
David, thank you for joining us on WTFFF?!. Could you please start by giving our readers a little background on yourself and how and when you started SD3D?
Going back to the start of SD3D, it started out in my garage. At the time, I was a manufacturing engineer over at Solar Turbines working on a whole bunch of industrial equipment, a lot of automated processes. I saw how manual the whole service side of 3D printing still was. I saw a lot of avenues for improvement there. As I was working in my garage and testing the market waters to see how much demand there was and what exactly people were demanding, I started to get fed up with the process flow and I also saw how much opportunity there was to improve the technology side of running the business as well.
What was going so wrong with the process flow before?
Everything is a lot more manual than you would have expected. I would say that myself, like many people who originally jumped into the industry, felt like there was a bit of a misadvertisement as far as how plug and play these systems are. The expectation was that these things would be similar as far as precision and reliability to the 2D standard and that’s not the case. I could print hundreds to thousands of pages on my 2D printer with no reliability issues whatsoever other than possibly running out of ink.
You said something interesting when we went to visit you. You have a reliability threshold and if the printer doesn’t meet it, you cast it aside and go for a different one. What is that and how did you develop that threshold?
That threshold goes two ways. Part of it is how disruptive that is to the overall process flow. What we’ve noticed is anything above around 20% starts to get disruptive and those interruptions start to build up. It’s not only a loss of machine time, but you also have to diagnose and fix whatever caused that error to begin with. All those things can consume you as a technician if you’re doing it yourself or if you’re running a business and you have to pay these technicians out. It becomes a breakeven point in which it doesn’t make sense for you to run machines that have reliability issues above that threshold, at least at current market standard prices. For us, we’re continuously trying to push that so we can provide the lowest cost and highest quality parts in our region. In order to do that, a big piece of that puzzle is finding ways to print with higher reliability and higher efficiency.
Does that mean hacking the machine or finding different ones?
Both. Some of it is purely software as far as how does the actual data get to the printer itself. Other aspects are definitely hardware related that comes down to hacking the machine both on the electrical and the mechanical level.
You started this in your garage. When was that?
That was late 2012.
You were working at Solar Turbines, and you’re doing this on the side. How long did it take you to build up enough business that you’re like, “This is a full-time gig, I’m ready to move on and do my own thing?”
It took about a year, and bear in mind, working at Solar Turbines was one of those career-type positions. It’s not something that you readily jump away from without having a decent amount of incentive. It was something I took a lot of time and thought. It wasn’t the demand that pushed me over. It was seeing that there were these fundamental issues that reminded me of early PC-type days that needed to be solved and people weren’t addressing them. People were accepting them.
It’s great to understand that because a lot of our readers are relatively new to 3D printing, although some are in it and considering starting businesses. To hear from you some of the challenges that you faced with starting your own 3D print service business would be helpful. Can you point out a couple of key challenges that you faced?It's astonishing how much people are willing to accept subpar hardware. Click To Tweet
Don’t get me wrong. The industry has advanced a long way and one of the early challenges was dealing with getting the actual G-code onto the printer itself. It used to be a lot more manual where you’d have to have maybe your laptop hooked up by USB. A lot of the printers only operated off of SD cards back then so you’d physically have to go up to the printer and remove that load on the file manually. The processes that were required to get the G-code to the end machine were dense. It’s not efficient whatsoever.
It physically required people to move around in a day and age when we’re using Wi-Fi protocol for about everything else. It didn’t make too much sense. Over the past few years, you’ve seen that go away. There’s a lot more wireless printing going on with several different hosts competing with each other. That provided a whole bunch of new efficiencies but there’s also a huge lack of innovation going on the hardware side. I’m a mechanical engineer so coming from that background, it’s astonishing how much people are willing to accept subpar hardware and that goes in both directions, not only on the mechanical side but also on the electrical side. There’s little innovation that’s happened over the last few years.
Do you think that that’s an issue especially the electronics and all that? We have seen various trade shows. We’ve seen so many printer companies popping up and they claim they have the next innovation. At the end of the day, they’re still using off the shelf electronics and open-source hardware. They’re all using the same subpar stuff as you’re pointing out. Do you think that’s more of a problem?
Most definitely. Everybody’s trying to do pretty much the same thing and they’re claiming to have the next big thing, but what they’re doing is doing small tweaks and iterations to what’s already been done hundreds of times. One fundamental issue, if you want to dive deeper into it, if you look at the two different levels of 3D printers that are out there, you have your desktop-level 3D printer, and you have your more industrial level 3D printer.
They’re separated by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude as far as Costco and upfront capital costs. When you strip them down to their bare bones, they are similar. As far as the mechanics go into it, there are small dissimilarities but one area in which they’re extremely different is when it comes to the electronic system and the control system and how reliably that’s been set up. That’s definitely one area which we hope to be able to help improve. That’s what we’ve been focusing on, at least over the past few years, is creating our own proprietary sensors to help drill those failure rates down to what we hope to be under 1% shortly.
It needs to be 1% because in any manufacturing process, if we have more than 1% defect rate in any injection molding or any of those things, that’s horrendous in manufacturing. You can run a business based on more than 1%.
That’s the main issue. The stark reality that we found when we started to scale up from one printer to over a few dozen printers was that those failure rates were the number one thing that was stopping us from being able to scale up fluidly. We would have to hire on a new employee for every 6 to 8 printers that we onboarded and that’s extremely inefficient. For us to maintain the trajectory of prices that we want to so we can compete with low volume injection molding, power crowdfunding campaigns and things like that, that are becoming a lot more popular, we need to be able to drill those failure rates down so we can have one technician working on dozens of printers at a time instead of half a dozen.
I grew up in the textile industry in my early days. You would think that textiles were labor-intensive with the looms and everything. They have them so dialed down that they can have an entire factory, floor of hundreds of machines and one person per shift servicing it and one maintenance person on day and night shift who goes through and repairs broken machines. It has to get that way in a service bureau for you guys to start making money.
That’s the number one issue with perception versus reality in our industry now. Everybody who’s jumping into our industry doesn’t value their time fully or hasn’t tried to scale up a bank to have multiple printers to see how those failure rates can stack up and the process flow. For people going into it, I feel like I don’t see that a lot of times. A lot of people specifically, who are on more of the hub type services like the Makexyz and the 3D Hubs a lot of times, they’re not valuing their time as well as they should be. While they might be garnering a decent amount of clientele that way, that’s where we started too. When we started to scale up, we had to start to account for all the costs that are associated, specifically with our time and having to hire technicians and you have to make changes when you start to do that.
That’s fascinating to me that you have not purchased off the shelf machines and set them up in a bank and in a lab so you have the capacity to be able to serve as many people. You’ve gone and made improvements to the machines to help reduce some of those inefficiencies. That’s quite interesting. Anybody reading who’s considering starting some 3D print service business may need to think about how they are going to set themselves apart to make their services a little better beyond what people could do themselves. They might need to send out to an outsource that’s far away where things are being shipped back and forth instead of locally. It seems you’re finding a way to provide a better value, certainly to your local community there in San Diego.
We’re trying to bridge the gap between the two different levels of printers out there by adding on these associated networks of sensory modules. We hope in the future to be able to extend that out to other service bureaus and create an alternative to the Shapeways to use the $250,000 to $500,000 SLS machines out there.
There’s a big place and there is a big miss for many people. We talked about this before on the podcast, but we heard us talk at 3D Print Show California between Sculpteo and Staples as they were announcing their partnership and going forward. The question I asked them was, “Are you available to be able to select an FFF printer so a Staples customer can test out the quality of that FFF printer to it?” They were dismissive of it. They were like, “Why would we want to do that? The quality is so much better on our expensive printers. Who wants that?”
There is a place for people who want that. People who are testing whether or not they’re going to go into full force into changing their manufacturing facility to include printers like that or their prototyping process. There’s a big way of testing that out, or as we came to you, we want to supplement our printing process and we want it to be FFF because our goal is to show people exactly what they can do with the printer.
We believe that there is a place for end-use products made with the FFF process and that’s what we brought to you and you’re a good fit for that because that is the process you use.
Not everybody wants those industrial ones. The FFF has a big place.
We’re definitely a good example of showing end-user products using FFF technology. Specifically, we’ve delivered a lot of end-user parts to the robotics industry where it doesn’t make sense if you have three dozen different robotics pieces and you’re only making a couple hundred to 1,000 of these robots for you to go injection molding. If you lose your wallet on that, your robot would be tens of thousands of dollars that way. If you go through our service, which is able to create functional parts, and with post-processing, it’s close to the aesthetic appeal of injection molding. You’re able to get those costs down to a fraction of what they otherwise would be.
The way that I see what we’re doing or at least what we’re trying to do is to empower these projects that never had a chance to take off because of either limited early marketed appeal because they’re first to market movers or because it’s a niche application mini robotics or drone applications. We’ve helped a lot of those out as well as the hospitality industry. Customization in the hospitality industry is a big deal. Having consumer production-type parts that go into, say, customizing how your television looks for your stay or something like that. It makes a lot of sense for them.
It is exactly why service bureaus like yours are valuable in the overall 3D print economy and market.
Going back to those two different types of printers and how they’re used. Our big play is, at the end of the day, those other types of printing technologies will always be more expensive to make end-user parts than FFF is. That’s simply because we’re using the same materials that injection molders are using. In fact, within the next few years, many of our printers are going to be working directly off of pellets. Everything is definitely coming and moving more so in that direction. As that matures, the cost of the virgin material going into the actual printer is going to be cut by another 67%. It’s already been cut down about 40% since I started on the retail level.
You’re not seeing those types of economies of scale happening with SLS powders, you’re not seeing that happening with resins on the SLA side and there’s a floor for the prices that could ever be marketed for those technologies that FFF is crushing on a large scale. On our price structure, we have plans that go as low as $0.06 a cubic centimeter. The lowest I’ve ever seen through Shapeways using the SLS process is around $0.28 a cubic centimeter. It is a fraction of the cost.
Let’s talk a little bit about your pricing model. It’s a little bit confusing when I was looking it over. What made you decide to go for a membership model than a straight piece part?
In order to answer it, I have to explain more about how we got a foothold in San Diego, in general. Going back to when I was in my garage, the way that we ended up moving out of there were a couple of Kickstarter companies that were doing their campaigns happened to come to us. One in particular was persistent about being able to use 3D printing for their project. They’re a local company called Clever Pet. They were making this automated pet feeder. You can go and look at their Kickstarter to see what that looks like.
There were a few dozen different printed pieces that went into it. Originally through our quoting one-off parts, it came out to be well over $1,000 for all the parts in there. That was not a viable solution for them with that price structure. What they ended up doing, which a lot of people do, is they said, “We’re going to try to print this ourselves and see how this will go if we try to fulfill the production.” They went out and they bought a couple of printers. A few weeks later, they called us back and they said, “We’re spending all of our time fixing up these printers and keeping them going. We’re never going to be able to focus as much as we need to on our campaign. We need to find a better solution to this.” What they did was they proposed to us that we would take their printers. They would give them to us in exchange for preferential pricing for anything that we printed for them using those printers. On half of it, we would get excess capacity so we could fulfill other one-off jobs with higher margins.
That’s why your membership structure is like a printer reservation.
Originally, we called it a printer farm and it was literally that where people could either take their old printers and give them to us or they could give us an upfront payment and we would reserve a dedicated printer specifically for them. That was confusing for people because they own the printer that they never saw. We eventually converted to a more traditional membership structure, which is what we have now.
It’s a customer who’s going to be an ongoing customer, or at least an occasional, but not a one-time customer. You have different levels to which they can become members at different prices and essentially, they’re buying some amortization of a machine it sounds like or buying time on those machines at one price. They’re running their parts and get a better piece part pricing based on that. Is that fair to say?
That’s definitely fair to say.
It’s an interesting model. When I saw that, I thought, “That’s an interesting way to go about it,” but it makes a lot of sense, especially when you’re in your growth process as well. We do this long-term contract comfort.
3D printing, like in any other industry is cyclical. It’s something that we’ve had a rude awakening too that nobody explained to us but like any other industry that’s doing manufacturing on a B2B level, you have ups and downs. We’re still learning those. Having those long-term contracts that are more sustainable production, where we’ve now set ourselves up to where we do straight drop shipping for a lot of those partners. They receive orders and they’d get forward through our factory. We throw their branding on it and it gets shipped out to the customer and they never get their hands dirty with it.
Being able to do something like that all within the United States is nice. That’s becoming more attractive to people. Those are the types of contracts that we’re focusing on getting and filling up 50% of our capacity that way. On the other side of it, we’re still taking in those one-off jobs which people can tolerate paying a little bit more if they’re getting one of these four prototypes. If they want to be doing sustainable production, they need lower costs.
That was what brought us to you. We found you quite accidentally at the San Diego Maker Faire. As we were putting a couple of our products out there on Amazon in production, we can produce and have been producing the early stocking quantities of our products here in our own studio. We’re concerned that we’ll exceed our capacity quickly and we don’t want to build out a server farm. It will cost us something to have you do it, but we can still make a good margin on that and let you concentrate on the production that you guys are experts in.
It’s similar to your Kickstarter guys. It’s not our day job. We need to concentrate on our regular business and the design of the next thing.3D printing, just like any other industry, is very cyclical. There are ups and downs, and we're still learning those. Click To Tweet
That’s the real value that we end up providing. It’s two-sided. Once you get to focus more on what you do best and we focus on what we do best and that’s always a good compromise to have for economies. The second part of it is, we’re constantly doing research and developments internally in order to improve our processes and push those costs down. We’ve got it to the level where if you have enough time production to do with our comp plans it will be cheaper to go through us since we buy a lot of filament, we get them in bulk pricing. You’d most likely be able to get on your own accord.
That’s a good point because we have specialty colors that we want to use. When you use one of those service bureaus that use an industrial machine and not the machines that do like the Shapeways or Sculpteo style machines with the gypsum, powders, and all of that. Even the ones that are FFF that are like 3D Systems and stuff like that have limited color offerings. You can’t use the specialty colors, you can’t use the translucent. You showed your material board and being able to have access to specialty colors and specialty machines is great.
The beauty of it is and where I see us being able to close that gap and bring up the average price for FFF production down industry-wide is all those materials on that board were all printed from the same printer. No industrial machine, at least that I know of and I look at these things every day, I’ve never seen one industrial machine out there that has that flexibility. I’m talking about the class machines that are six figures plus. With a machine we’ve maybe sunk $2,500 to $3,000 into, we’re getting two orders of magnitude increase in value to our dollar by being able to, on our end, what we specialize in is controlling those settings that go into the printer.
A lot of the R&D that we’re specifically involved in is improving the process flow of updating those settings in real-time with the environment as it changes, with the material as it changes coming into it. It’s like you said, with those industrial printers they usually have limited flexibility as far as what you could feed into it. For us, being able to use generic materials is part of the huge advantage on more of the desktop end of things. We’re trying to create ridge sensors that provide that dynamic updating of what the actual diameter is coming into the printer, what the speed is so we have the exact same feedback that those industrial units do. We are able to use a lot more flexible materials coming into it with the exact same type of output as far as quality goes.
David, one other question for you. We talked about reliability, but the $2,500 to $3,000 printers also don’t have a huge lifespan. How are you dealing with that in your business?
It’s pretty much like a car. Everything on a 3D printer is replaceable. You can replace it. The main issue that we don’t have now is enough feedback systems to know when to replace things at the time so you don’t end up getting a lot of issues piling up on each other. Those are all things that we’re trying to address. Having alerts to know when you need to oil your smooth rods and when you need to tension your belt so you don’t start to have slippage coming that way.
What are you finding the lifespan to be for a number of hours of printing for on average?
For off the shelf non-hacked type of printers, I would probably say maybe 1.5 years if you’re taking good care of it. A lot of those ones in that printer graveyard that I showed you were only about 1 or 1.5 years into their production cycle before we retired them.
That’s interesting because a lot of people out there have this expectation that they’re spending $3,000 and they’re going to get a long level of printer. Without starting to go in and replace parts like your extruder and do these types of things, you can’t get much more than a 1.5 year out of them and that’s good for our readers to understand.
It goes back full circle. Nobody expects to have to do constant maintenance on their 2D printer. Everybody has that same expectation coming into 3D printing, and it’s not the same thing at all. It’s different dimensions. Eventually, those dimensions will get a lot closer and there are a lot of people working on a lot of different angles to make that happen. It’s like the early PC days now. We have great technology and everybody’s super ecstatic about it, but we can’t be complacent and accept the issues that still exist in our industry.
No, because we have to make sustainable businesses out of it.
David, that’s quite informative for our readers. Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
Thanks for having me. I hope to talk to you guys more soon.
I’m sure we will.
This has been an interesting experiment for us to both try them out as well as talk to David here on the show. From a perspective of trying it out, when I first saw the pricing list, I thought, “This is crazy pricing.” The more I thought about it, the more I thought, “This makes sense. It gets your piece part costs down and it gives them the security that they have a machine that they can dedicate to it when necessary. It’s like you’re paying for long-term rental on a machine but it’s any random machine so they still have their capacity.
The thing that I liked is we’ve been involved in the manufacturing and production of all kinds of different manufacturing processes for twenty-plus years. We’ve done it all, injection molding, thermal forming, wood, metal manufacturer, it doesn’t matter. Any factory or supplier that charges you a piece part cost and tells you that they’re not amortizing their equipment cost into that piece part cost is usually not being honest. They have overhead and machines and they’re going to price the product so they’re covering that overhead and machines plus making a profit.
They don’t want to be surprised by an increase in capacity at the last second because they may not have the capital access at that moment to do it. By requiring a membership fee that’s upfront, you cover that.
What SD3D is doing is quite more honest and they’ve tiered it so you can buy a one off-piece. You’re going to have one made fun, there’s a price and that’s the highest price you’re going to pay for something. They’ve got an Economy Membership, Premium Membership, a Pro, a Business, and even an Enterprise level. Those are annual fees and it depends on how much capacity you’re going to use. It allows you to step up, start at that Economy level, and as you grow, what he didn’t mention is, you can upgrade and pay the difference to go to the next level when your production needs require it.
Remind me again, Tom, were you able to mix the different types of pieces you can print in that membership?
You could. I did ask that specific question. Let’s say you have an economy membership and that’s $500 a year and that buys you a certain amount of capacity per month on their machines. That buys you lower pricing per piece cost, but it doesn’t have to be one product. You can mix that.
It’s like when he was talking about doing a handful of prints for that robotics company that there might be 5 or 6 parts. If they had the 100-unit capacity, they could still mix it with those 5 to 6 parts.
Ultimately, the pricing for pieces based on the volume of plastic material is consumed by making the machine. It’s fair pricing. It gives them some stability so as you become a member, they have monies that they can then use to add to their capacity, buy more machines as needed so they’re ready for the capacity instead of trying to catch up to the capacity after the fact.
It’s smart business.
It is. It’s innovative pricing and it’s the first time I’ve seen this pricing from anybody. Any others of you that are in a service business or considering getting into one, you might consider this model, especially regular customers. This type of pricing seems to be, I hate to use the cliché win-win, because I don’t like the sound of that, but it’s reasonable and fair.
It’s a sustainable business model for both sides.
For both the customer and the service provider. It makes a lot of sense to me.
He referred to the printer graveyard.
It’s interesting that some of those printers up there he said had a 60% failure rate when we were talking about it because we were like, “I recognize that printer. How was that?” He was like, “It’s high.” That’s interesting because we’ve used a lot of printers here and people are always shocked at how great quality we’ve gotten out of our MakerBot, but it’s not without a lot of maintenance and hacking. We have to be clear about that. We’re careful with how soon we replace the extruder, how careful we are about clearing filament jams, and how we handle the machine as part of it.
I don’t know that I would call it hacking with what I do. Hacking implies modifying the machine. The most I’ve modified a machine is built a wrecked old filament above it but what I have been willing to do as an advanced user is when that smart extruder on the MakerBot gets jammed. I don’t toss it aside and buy a new one. I do have a spare ready to go but then I’ve opened it up and cleared that filament jam all the time and put it back together, which MakerBot will tell not to do and you’re breaking warranties by doing that.
Ours is way out of the warranty now.
They don’t want you to open up those things, but I find if you’re going to have a practical operation and be able to make things with consistency, you’ve got to maintain the machine so yes, I do that.Nobody expects to have to do constant maintenance on their 2D printer, so everybody has that same expectation coming into 3D printing. Click To Tweet
That’s why a printer company coming in with these warranties are unreasonable because the machines are not reliable enough yet. If the machines are not going to be good enough yet, then your warranty needs to reflect that. That’s where they need to be more flexible with that.
Warranties are a good thing and we recommended to our readers that if they’re going to buy a new machine, either buy one with a good warranty.
I’m talking about restrictions on warranties. You can’t say, “You can’t open up the machine. You can’t clean it. You can’t use a different filament.” It’s an unreasonable restriction on a warranty when your machine isn’t good enough, to begin with.
It’s impractical. I agree with you. You need to allow your users to open it up and try to fix some things and not have that all of a sudden mean you as a company is not going to support that customer. That doesn’t make sense.
This is good for our beginning readers out there to go in with their eyes open to these printers and realize that 20% to even 60% failure rate is common here for professionals who know what they’re doing managing machines. The frustration level that can happen from that failure rate is high and some of it is, as he pointed out, software. The G-code that you’re putting in is a problem, the software itself could be a problem, the file is a bigger problem for most people. You don’t understand how bad the design is affecting that failure rate is probably the number one problem.
It’s interesting the scenario that he put out there of this robotics company making a whole ton of different parts and/or was it a Kickstarter that was doing Clever Pet. The Kickstarter bought 3D printers and tried to do it themselves and they were spending so much time learning how to do it, they weren’t doing the other important business things they need to do. It’s a great example of using a service bureau. If you are a company out there that has a specific need, and you need to be making the same thing over and over in a small volume, I do think you can find a printer and have an employee who’s responsible for operating that machine. Figure out the details and have predictable results that are not a 60% failure rate.
In that case, it’s choosing the printer for the part that you want to make and that’s probably where you get a disconnect. They have these printers there that they use and maybe we discovered that our tie doesn’t print well on that printer.
It’s taking them a while to dial in the settings.
It doesn’t print as well on that printer, but the angel prints are fine. It’s the what maybe a disconnect as well and that’s where you have to choose your printer smartly if you’re going to bring it in-house and do it that way.
We were talking about a science project thing on another episode where your kid has a science project and 3D printing sounds a great tool to use to do it. If it’s the first thing you’re ever doing, we don’t recommend it because you’re going to spend so much time. You’ll be late on the deadline. It would be a disaster. If you have gotten into it and have some experience, maybe it’s an appropriate solution. The same thing applies to certain business applications. It depends on exactly what you’re doing.
This brings me to my thing. If you’re out there considering a service bureau model, you’re thinking, and you’re reading this episode or as a part of this podcast.
It is like what Kelechi is doing in Africa.
You have to think about that there’s a niche there, a missing link for someone who offers all kinds of FFF printers for those that want to test out a printer before they consider buying it. You could use the service bureau to help you dial in your settings. You could use them both as an outsource for the technical side too. They get the settings all dialed in and hand you back the G-code that’s a great resource. Every time you want to make a new part, you can send it to the technical experts and have them dial it in for you and bring it back and you can continue to produce it. It gets a different model of a service bureau. There’s a place for that.
Is anybody doing that?
No, I haven’t found one yet. I keep thinking this because I think there’s a lot of exploration now, the biggest question we get is, “What printer should I buy?” They want to try before you buy and while I want to refer them to 3D Hubs, there’s a risk level there that the 3D Hub you go through is not qualified enough. It’s not enough of an expert. I know there’s a rating system on there but you don’t know this guy from anyone. It’s a risk.
When you have different operators running different machines, that’s another variable as to their skill level that is maybe not going to give you a good read as to why that printer is a fit or not. I come to think of it, even makerspaces. While they have probably more different kinds of 3D printers, usually than maybe service bureaus do.
You’re running it on your own in the makerspace. You’re on your own.
They don’t have all the different printers. That’s a good point.
There’s a potential business out there for anyone who’s reading and Sandy DeWald, you might be reading and you’re one who’s thinking about a service bureau. Maybe this is the service bureau model. The model of having a bunch of different printers that are available on the market to try having a technician who understands and knows how to dial in the settings and get good G-code before you start so each printer is getting a good file going in. Producing that and saying, “This is the best printer for your particular part or job.” That’s an interesting model of business.
There is a serious need. There’s no real one authority. We’re trying to provide as much information to our readers as possible, but we haven’t tested every printer out there either. There may be a disconnect and an opportunity to do that. If it’s not a service bureau, maybe that’s why there’s a big need for consultants, even businesses to help them try to figure out from some level of experience what printers to try to go after or to consider.
This brings us to our last thing before we close up this show, but our printer reviews. We’re continuing to do them. We’ve got another one scheduled. When we put out these printer reviews and if you want to recommend a printer for us to review or submit your printer over for a review, please do that over the website which is 3DStartPoint.com and/or WTFFFPodcast.com. What we’re trying to do is not a five-star review. This one’s getting it and having a strict level of criteria. What we’re trying to do is figure out which printer is best for what printing? What customer is the one for this type of printer?
What are the printer’s unique technical attributes? What are its strengths? Maybe who might not be the type of user that would want to buy this one? It’s never that a printer is good or bad and, in my opinion, it’s always who is best suited for what type of user and what type of product would they be making?
Unfortunately, we can assess a reliability rate because we’d have to print the same thing for a week to see what failure rate it has and that’s not practical in what we’re doing here. That’s an unfortunate thing, but maybe we can try and add that in the future that might be something to work towards.
As David was saying, many of these printers are using the same basic components. It’s a little bit different in how they’re arranged and the software that’s running them and the firmware on the machine that’s running them, but those parts are replaceable. Reliability, it’s a hard thing to assess, and is it the most important thing when it comes to a 3D printer? Maybe not for a lot of consumers?
I don’t know. There is a certain amount of it if it frustrates you and it turns you into someone who’s going to say, “This printer sucks. I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to use it anymore.” If it’s giving you dissatisfaction, it’s something that the printer company needs to fix and a consumer needs to be aware of, especially if you’re learning. It’s frustrating for you.
I agree with that but that’s not always a reliability issue. The reliability is, is the machine rate on a hold-up?
You can email us with the new email address available to you. It’s Info@WTFFFPodcast.com. Let us know if you have any questions, we can help you answer or if you’re a company out there that would like either a printer, material, or an accessory review, we’re scheduling all those now. Thanks for reading.
- San Diego Maker Faire – past episode
- 3D Hubs
- Clever Pet
- Kickstarter – Clever Pet
- 3D Systems
- @HazzDesign – Instagram
Listen | Download | View
Hear the episode of the WTFFF?! Podcast by using the player above OR click to download any episode.
Help Us Help You!
Have some feedback? Leave a comment below. We will read and respond.
- 3D Startpoint Facebook
- 3D Startpoint LinkedIn
- Hazz Design Twitter
- 3D Startpoint YouTube