Leslie Langnau, Managing Editor
You don’t have to own a 3D printer to obtain prototypes or finished parts. The 3D printing service industry is vibrant, with interesting innovations to help you make your parts fast.
Most service bureaus are local, small shops that handle your prototypes relatively quickly.
Today, they have competition. The major vendors of 3D printing / additive manufacturing (3DP/AM) equipment have moved into the service arena. On top of that, you have small innovators exploring distributed 3D printing service approaches moving in. All of which means you have more choices for obtaining prototypes, or handling low volume production needs.
Several factors promote this direction in the 3D printing industry. But this recent emphasis on providing 3D printing services does not mean that vendors are experiencing slow sales of their additive manufacturing machines. Far from it. According to Wohlers Report 2016, 62 vendors produced and sold additive manufacturing systems valued at $5000 or more in 2015. Of those companies, 15 had sales of 100 systems each, while the remaining companies sold a bit less than that.
For AM vendors, adding a part prototyping or manufacturing service component to their capabilities makes financial sense. As noted in Wohlers Report 2016, the worldwide AM services market was estimated at $2.8 billion in 2015. It has grown over the years. In 2012, it grew by 36.4%. In 2013, it was 26.3% and in 2014, it was 38.9%.
A key factor in users turning to AM services is cost. On average, new product developers (of any product) may spend 10 to 15% of the cost of a product on design and prototyping. The remaining cost of a product, 90 to 95%, goes to the production of that product. Additive manufacturing can lower that production cost, whether you own a machine or outsource to a service provider.
Here are a few of the new business models in this part of the 3D printing industry.
3D Hubs is one of the newer service providers using a distributed manufacturing model. It works with individuals who own their own 3D printers and have excess time or capacity to accommodate orders. 3D Hubs helps these individual entrepreneurs find customers.
Members of the 3D Hubs network “rent out” time on their 3D printers to customers. A customer uploads the files to be 3D printed, selects a local 3D print Hub member, and receives or picks up their finished order within a matter of hours or days.
For the individual Hub member, it can be a lucrative opportunity. One provider with 3D Hubs is Ara Boghosian, a mechanical engineer with 23 years of product design and manufacturing experience. He has nine desktop 3D printers. Through referrals from 3D Hubs, he has enough capacity to make a six figure living out of 3D printing prototypes for others. His customers range from experienced hardware developers, engineers, and designers to first time users and students; customers that need complex products that can be produced on a limited scale. Last year, Boghosian completed over 500 customer orders and produced an estimated 10,000 products.
3D Systems bought Quickparts around 2009 as a way of offering prototyping services. Quickparts offers 3D design-to-manufacturing services, and is suited to unique, low and high-volume custom-designed parts. Similar to other service providers, it offers an instant online quoting system and experts to help you tweak your design for 3D printing. Quickparts works with a global network of facilities to handle user prototypes and final parts.
QuickQuote is Quickparts patented geometric analysis and instant quoting engine. It analyzes 3D CAD data (based on volume and geometry), then it produces an instant, custom quote in the process and quantity you specify. It supports native CAD data from CATIA, SolidWorks, Pro/ENGINEER, as well as industry standard formats such as Parasolid, ACIS, IGES, STEP, and STL.
Founded in 1998, CIDEAS is a full-service, additive manufacturing and 3D printing center. It has more than 30 in-house machines covering stereolithography, selective laser sintering, Fused Deposition Modeling, PolyJet, Carbon’s CLIP, urethane casting, and offers part finishing.
Mike Littrell, president and founder, helped develop the company’s True-Quote program, a comprehensive and interactive quote engine that helps you determine the best orientation, support usage and material choices. The goal was to speed up the quotation process and take advantage of recent developments in additive manufacturing. You can get a quote in as little as a few seconds, depending on the part and other choices you make. Perhaps one of the more important features of this visualization system is the ability to see how part orientation affects build time as well as cost. In some cases, you can see a $3000 shift in cost by simply re-orienting the build. You can also see the effect of support structures in the part, and make alterations as needed.
Manual quotes and uploads are also available thru this system.
Littrell is also a recipient of the Additive Manufacturing Users Group’s prestigious Dino award.
Fast Radius has taken a unique approach to providing fast 3D printed prototyping. It is part of a collaboration between SAP SE and UPS. SAP SE and UPS are attempting to transform 3D printing services into seamless, on-demand manufacturing from order through manufacturing and delivery.
The collaboration will integrate supply chain solutions from SAP with UPS’s additive industrial manufacturing and logistics network. The tools of SAP and UPS will help you calculate the costs in real time, including tax calculations, shipping costs, bill of materials, and so forth. This capability will enable real-time decisions on the optimal supply chain path for every parts order. UPS end-of-runway manufacturing can get most orders sent in by 6:00 P.M. manufactured and delivered anywhere in the United States by the next morning. Users will track their order from their SAP software system.
Fast Radius is an industrial manufacturer with capabilities in cutting edge 3D plastic and metal printing technologies, CNC machining and rapid injection molding. Its Fast Radius On-Demand Production Platform delivers fast quotes. This manufacturer delivers nearly unlimited manufacturing capacity and capability for quick-turn part production to customers from all industries. Plus, it is co-located with UPS hubs in the US and external manufacturing partners.
Customers will visit the Fast Radius website (formerly CloudDDM) to place their 3D printing orders, which will be directed to the optimal manufacturing or The UPS Store location based on speed, geography, and the product quality the customer requires. Orders can be shipped as early as same day. While participating The UPS Store locations are all in the U.S., companies globally could use the network and place orders.
“Fast Radius continues to enhance its production platform and globally expand its manufacturing capabilities in 3D printing (plastics and metals), CNC machining and rapid injection molding,” said Rick Smith, co-founder and CEO of Fast Radius. “With this distributed, on-demand manufacturing network, UPS customers will be able to get their products to market faster and more cost-effectively because parts can be produced exactly in the quantity they need and when they need them. The potential of on-demand manufacturing is here today.”
Fictiv is the latest additive manufacturing service provider. Founded in San Francisco by two brothers, Dave and Nate Evans, Fictiv gives small businesses and enterprises access to fast prototyping technology. The founders’ concept is to use a network of vendors with 3D printing and CNC machines in a distributed manufacturing arrangement. With this arrangement, users can have finished prototypes in a few days or hours; specifically Fictiv provides 3D printed prototypes delivered in 24 hours, and CNC machined parts in 3 days.
Fictiv offers the following additive manufacturing prototyping technologies: FDM, SLA, SLS, and PolyJet. For CNC machining, it offers milling and turning.
Rasheq Zarif, Senior Manager, Business Innovation at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Inc., is a customer of Fictiv. Noted Zarif, “Access to a variety of high quality prototype parts early in the development process enabled us to test our hardware designs to create intelligent and great performing features. Fictiv gave us the insight and quality we expected and need to prototype new parts quickly.”
Noted Abe Fetterman, CTO at Nomiku, another Fictiv customer, “Fictiv dramatically reduced our iteration time by getting us high quality prints within days, with no extra time spent on our end preparing parts for a print, setting up a printer, or cleaning and finishing parts. Fast turnaround and less hands-on time meant our time could be spent where it was needed most: designing our product.”
Fictiv automates the prototyping process by optimizing machine capacity to support faster, on-demand fabrication of parts. Once customers upload their design files, the platform intelligently identifies available machine capacity and sends the parts to pre-vetted, trusted fabricators in Fictiv’s network. This distributed approach supports local manufacturing ecosystems by helping quality vendors fill excess capacity. As the manufacturing industry shifts toward more localized models, Fictiv is building the infrastructure needed to allow for a distributed, agile manufacturing economy.
“The US was once the center of manufacturing in the world,” says Nate Evans, co-founder, Fictiv. “Today the country is still filled with some of the best manufacturing minds and expertise globally. However, many of these shops have been left behind without the needed technology and tools to compete against larger, centralized manufacturers. Fictiv is building a technology infrastructure to allow engineers and designers better access these experts, while catalyzing local economies to spur growth.”
Proto Labs has offered fast prototyping services since 1999. At first, most prototyping involved CNC machining and injection molding. In 2014, the company acquired FineLine Prototyping Inc., a provider of additive manufacturing services, which enabled Proto Labs to add this technology to its repertoire. Thus, the company now offers stereolithography, selective laser sintering and direct metal laser sintering services for parts targeted at medical, aerospace, computer/electronics, consumer products and industrial machinery industries.
Proto Labs quickly quotes a job based on the 3D CAD file. The quote is often returned within a few hours, including detailed information on the potential manufacturing issues and suggested solutions when available.
Stratasys Manufacturing Direct
Stratasys Manufacturing Direct is the result of combining the acquisitions of Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies with Stratasys’ own RedEye prototyping service.
Stratasys Manufacturing Direct is a full prototyping/manufacturing provider, offering services that include PolyJet, Laser Sintering, Stereolithography, Direct Metal Laser Sintering, Fused Deposition Modeling, as well as CNC machining, urethane casting, tooling and molding and finishing and assembly. This company has eight manufacturing facilities located throughout the United States.
Studio Fathom offers a range of 3D printing services, including advanced manufacturing services. 3D printing machines include Stratasys 3D printers, both PolyJet- and FDM-based additive manufacturing systems. Thus, users can submit designs for 3D printing as well as for injection molding (steel / aluminum / 3D printed), RTV / silicone molding / cast urethane, CNC machining, part assembly, and model finishing.
SmartQuote is the company’s specialized online platform that provides quick and easy access to 3D printing services for prototyping and low volume production.
Stratasys Manufacturing Direct