Max- Kickstarter is your best bet. Just start a campaign to buy a 3D printer and give each contributor a small % of time on the machine. You host it in your lab and provide access to it over the web. You probably need to add the cost of an 'intern' to manage the hosting but I bet you could get a good deal from a manufacturer as part of the campaign. Try it! (Or find a volunteer to do it for you...)
Another thought is that you could find a local hackerspace or 3d printer club. Most hackerspaces have a 3d printer now and many offer daily rates for equipment use (as opposed to a monthly membership). The advantage here is that there is probably a knowledgeable person to walk you through the nuances of the machine.
I happen to know for a fact you have an awesome hackerspace right ther in huntsville! I've been there! It is the "Makers Local 256" and I do believe you may pass out from joy upon entering the building.
@Caleb: I happen to know for a fact you have an awesome hackerspace right ther in huntsville! I've been there! It is the "Makers Local 256" and I do believe you may pass out from joy upon entering the building.
How come I'm always the last to hear about these things? LOL
@Caleb: ...and several for under $500. Check out Solidoodle for that price range.
Oooh!!! That does look REALLY tasty!!!
When I was in Norway I saw a 3D printer at the university of Oslo that allowed you to print with two materials -- one could be easily disolved away -- this let you create things like interwined parts -- I'm guessing the Solidoodle doesn't have this capability?
Generally, no this type of printing does not allow for a material that disolves. There have been a few experiments with it, but nothing in the commercial market yet. There are a couple printers out there that can print in 2 materials/colors right now though.
aside from colored plastic there is a wood material as well as some glow in the dark material!
If you want to print fully moving parts, you'll need to bump up to the 10k plus range and get a much fancier printer that doesn't lay down layers of hot plastic.
"Generally, no this type of printing does not allow for a material that disolves. There have been a few experiments with it, but nothing in the commercial market yet."
There are some printers capable of processing PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) filaments. PVA is water-soluble and can thus be removed from the printed object. (A raised temperature, bath agitation and - maybe - a little addon-chemistry will help.)
Not only the guys from makerbot are offering a PVA filament to print removable support structures.
I guess, technically PVA is available commercially. From what Iv'e seen of it in use though, it isn't very practical. The material itself is quite finnicky and extremely expensive compared to PLA and ABS. At the price of that stuff with the issues I've heard of, you might as well just have it printed in higher quality through a service.
The top 10 3d printers has been done over and over and over. Not to mention it changes every single day.
I think maybe the a more useful article would be "a crash course on what is important in a 3d printer's features" or something like that. Educate the buyer so they can decide for themselves. There's so much variety and marketing speak it is hard to find what you really need.
I got some experience from 3d prototyping 12-13 years ago. The wire type we tried was not very suitable for what I was doing (actually it sucked big time), but the sintering was usable as a product right away. We even went ahead and made our first production series using sintering. Today, even the cheap wire printers are better than 12 years ago, but the issue with support and gravity is still a much bigger issue to solve than on sintering types. It works well with self supporting objects (my colleague built one)
Back then, the UV-curing technology didn't exist afaik, but I suspect they are printing relatively brittle objects?
Here is a short explanation of the 3 different technologies I know from the top of my head:
1-UV-curing is the tech where a liquid is hardened using UV light, either from laser or a projector, and the object gets pulled out of a "magic hat", or a liquid container if you like. [I would love to see someone shaping their printer as a magic hat!] You are limited to monochrome (opaque?) objects. You usually need to add some support pegs, or if you are printing gears, you needs breakoffs. If you're a hacker and want to give it a try, here is a shop for the liquid you need:http://spotamaterials.com . I dont know if this tech needs ventilation, but I know the others do. I have no direct experience with this tech, google showed me how its done ;)
2-Sintering is the tech where layers of (usually) plastic powder is melted with a laser. The non melted powder acts as support during print. Adding ink to the plastic is possible to print multi colors. Models needs no support and is the best technology to print gears (or anything complex imho). I guess this is the technology used for metal printing too
3-Wire melting is the most available technology. There are a lot of hack projects doing this. It uses plastic wire of a chosen diameters, melts it and feeds it onto a surface. In theory you could have multicolor if you have several heads or even care to manual switch wire during print. Maybe this is the best tech to do cavities. Since it doesnt need any post processing like hardening or cleaning, you can print hollow objects.
If you want to play, I suggest you try some prints at shapeways.com before you buy. Drawing the actual object is the most interesting part really :) I have access to Solidworks, but I dont know if there are any good free tools out there.
And if I do get one, maybe I'll become a mad scientist, even if I just end up reinventing the pizza-wheel :)
@Nnanci: Max, - What about th printing components...can you use the same printer to print an electronic part and to print any other solid?
You can't print electronic parts with this type of printer -- just three dimensional plastic structures -- but there are companies that do specialize in printing electronic circuit son flexible substrates -- like Americal Semiconductor Inc (www.americansemi.com) .. in fac tI have acoupel of their flexible / printer MCUs on my desk as we speak :-)
My first experience with 3D printing was at In Focus, the projector company many, many years ago. We sent out a projector case design to a stereo lithography (UV curing resin and a UV laser) shop. Someone, somewhere slipped a decimal point and the 20" part came back to us as a two inch part. It still makes me chuckle to think about it.
I think there's a hackerspace of some sort here in the Portland area that I need to check out.