3D printing services
We offer 3D printing as a service.
3D printing is ideal for :-
- Prototype parts and casework
- Casework for Raspberry pi and similar electronics
- Replacement parts
- Models and sculptures
- Engineering parts, adapters and fixings
This is a simple example of a 3D printed Valentine's heart box which has moving parts, printed on a TAZ 6. This shows the post printing steps and the way it works.
There are many free and chargeable tools available to design and/or scan in 3D models. Different packages are better for more art style projects and sculptures, but there are also more technical modeling tools. We tend to use openscad, which is a free scripted modeling tool.
Some models can take many days to print, and if we have a large job before yours this can add delay. However, we do not generally have a queue of print jobs and can usually get your job started the day you order. We also have a choice of printers available. If you have an urgent requirement please do let us know.
File formats and tips
Most modelling tools can work in a variety of formats, and we recommend you produce final output in STL format. The STL file format consists of sets of triangles.
There are a number of print options, but for a lot of jobs the standard 200µm layer print will provide a good quality print. If you need specialised settings, please let us know. In many cases it is sensible to try and load the STL file in to one of the slicer tools we use to see a preview of how the print will work - this can be important to see if there are issues with fine details, or overhangs in the design, etc. For the makerbot, we use the Makerware package, and for the TAZ 6 we use Simplify3D. We can look at your design, and send a screen shot of the preview if you wish.
The different options can impact the print time and the amount of material used, and hence the cost. If, for example, you would like to minimise the cost we can reduce the infill in a model, making it lighter.
The filament is available in a number of colours, both translucent and opaque as well as clear. We have various colours in stock, and can order additional colours if necessary.
In addition to normal colours it is also possible to get fluorescent and even glow-in-the-dark materials.
Normally colours are consistent from reel to reel, but we cannot guarantee that colours will match exactly between reels and we may have to change a reel during a print in some cases. This is especially true for natural/clear.
Choice of printers
Depending on the model, size, and material, your job may be better suited for a particular printer. We use a Makerbot Replicator 2 and a Lulzbot TAZ 6.
The Makerbot Replicator 2 has a print area of 280 x 153mm and 155mm high. We usually only print PLA with this printer. There are a lot of designs on sites like Thingiverse which are known to just work on a Makerbot Replicator 2.
The Lulzbot TAZ 6 with area of 280mm x 280mm x 250mm. This can print PLA, ABS, nGen, and a variety of specialist filaments. This printer has slightly different design constraints and so designs tested on a Makerbot may not just work on the TAZ 6 or vice versa.
If in doubt, please do ask staff for advice. If your design has interconnected moving parts, then the clearance between parts can be critical and you may wish to request a print of a small part of your design to confirm it will work as expected.
The usual material for 3D printing is PLA or nGen. PLA is a biodegradable plastic, so not ideal for anything used outside. It is the more environmentally friendly of materials made from renewable resources like corn starch, etc. nGen is better quality.
We can also print using ABS which is less environmentally friendly and not biodegradable.
There are also other interesting polymers available which are able to handle higher temperatures, and some that are designed to be food grade, though we do not make this claim of the finished product.
There are also filaments with additional fillings, including wood (bamboo, wood, cork) and metal (brass, copper), and even carbon fibre. These can be used to create different looks as well as different strength/characteristics.
Please say if you need printing using any specialist filaments. Our pricing is based on PLA or nGen and additional prices may apply to specialist materials.
There are a number of reasons that a print can fail. These can normally be avoided by careful design of your model, and choice of printing options. The main issues are:-
- Overhangs and printing in mid air. An overhang of around 45 degrees can normally be printed with no problem, shallower overhangs can work but are usually not as smooth, and gaps can sometimes be bridged. However, it is possible for a bad design to leave filament extruding in to thin air creating a pile of spaghetti like plastic. Use of printed supports can normally address this, either manually added to the model or selected as automatic support material from the print options.
- Falling over can occur if printing without a raft, or with too small an area in contact with the bed - this leaves the print on its side and again a pile of spaghetti. A raft or brim is often useful, and recommended where there are small items being printed. In some cases adding manual supports to the design creates extra stability during printing. We can print with a raft, or a brim, or with no additional material as you wish.
We do not normally watch the print, but will usually check on it periodically. We may leave a large print over night. However, if we see that the print has failed in some fatal way (such as the above) we will stop the print job at that point. In such cases you only pay for time/materials used. You can ask for this to be sent to you if you wish (for postage costs).
If the print fails due to a failure on our part - such as power cut, or some mistake we make, we will re-do the print at no extra cost.
There are a number of cases where printing may not be considered perfect, but the print job has not actually failed. Many of these can be addressed by changes to the design of the model or print options.
- Moving parts. If your design has interconnected moving parts, then the clearance between parts can be critical. The result can either be parts that are jammed together and will not move, or parts that are too loose. You may wish to request a print of a small part of your design to confirm it will work as expected.
- As the plastic cools it contracts and this can mean a large object can curl up or warp away from the print bed. In most cases this does not cause the print to fail as such but does mean the final result is not as flat as the original design. Changes to the design can address some of these issues, as can printing smaller items. This can also depend on which printer we use and the material used. The nGen co-polyester is the most stable and can usually print large objects without warping.
- When using translucent or transparent filament, the internal structure of the infill can be seen. Even when not doing so, the surface texture of can reflect changes in the internal infill or other parts of the print, meaning some surfaces may not be totally smooth. This is just part of the print process.
- When printing distinct parts of a model, or multiple items, the head moves from one to another without extruding. However, this can lead to some stringing between items. This is easily removed in most cases but can leave the surface less smooth as a result. This can often be addressed by printing separate items separately. This is not usually any problem, but is particularly noticeable when printing at 100µm layer thickness on the Makerbot, or if using woodfill filament.
- Shallow overhangs will usually work, but can have loops and rough edges as a result of trying to print in thin air. Adding supports can help with this.
- Some filament, notably the black, will show stress marks in white where the filament is separated from the raft.
- In general the base layer and flat top layers of print do look different to other surfaces. This is just a feature of the printing.
Prints are provided as is, and the charges are for the raw materials and use of the machine. It is up to you to consider these factors in your design.
The printing tools allow for a forecast of machine time and material usage - we use this to create an estimate of price. Pricing is based on machine time at £10+VAT/hour and the standard materials are charged at 10p+VAT/g. Postage is added at cost.
If you wish to print at 100µm layer thickness then this will result in a higher price because of higher machine time (usually doubled). You can also ask us to print at lower resolution to reduce time, or slower to increase precision, etc. We can usually offer advice on your print.
Machine time and weight estimates and charges include any raft or support material used.
If you send an STL and advise the settings you required (default being a standard 200µm layer thickness using nGen), we can advise machine time and material weight and hence cost.
If we were to produce and sell 3D models then we would need to ensure we comply with a wide variety of legislation, not least of which is Product Safety, Toy Safety, CE marking, Copyright, Design rights, Patents, and Trademarks. Given that we would be printing models provided by customers, many of which we would not even see before printing, it would be impractical and prohibitively expensive for us to act as manufacturer or distributer of any such models.
Fortunately, many of these rules do not apply if printing something yourself. There is even an exception in The Patent Act for private, non commercial use. As such, our service is sold as follows:-
- For a period of time necessary to complete the 3D printing we will rent to you one of our 3D printers. The printer remains in our office. For some printers you may be able to access and control it over the Internet. You could attend our offices to control the printer. If you are unable to do so, we will provide use of our trained staff to act on your instructions and operate the printer on your behalf.
- We will supply raw materials such as coloured PLA or nGen filament for use in the printer. We sell this to you by the gram. The filament is not food grade, and whilst PLA itself is probably safe, we do not know what additives and colourants there may be in the PLA supplied.
- You acknowledge that for the purposes of all relevant legislation that you are the manufacture of any items produced. As you are paying for the raw materials and rent of the printer the items produced already belong to you and we do not sell them to you.
- You indemnify us against any claims made in relation to the items produced.
Obviously if you wish to sell items you produce then you will need to consider any relevant legislation and regulations that apply to you.