I have used 3D printers in my professional career for over 20 years now, the technology at the time was amazing and it has continued to develop at a phenomenal rate. The range of materials and printing processes available is simply mind boggling, you can print plastic parts, metal parts even carbon fibre reinforced parts. Traditionally the printers have been expensive to buy and difficult to get good results from without a bit of knowhow. This has led to a proliferation of bureau services which allow you to upload a model for quoting in different materials and then order for subsequent delivery. Unfortunately this slows down what could otherwise be a rapid design iteration tool, not much but enough to be frustrating.
One notable development in the past 5 years has been the availability of printers for home use. From early models with basic capability and poor reliability we are now at the point where you can purchase a reliable 3d printer for £100. I have watched with keen interest as a specific type of 3d printer, the resin printer, has gradually come down in price and now it seems is within the grasp of mere mortals. We took the plunge last month at alfiecameras and decided to invest in a shiny new resin printing machine, a Flashforge 8.9 to be precise, coupled with a Creality wash and curing station they can churn through a camera print in about 5 hours. Not just any old print either, we are talking high resolution dimensionally accurate parts which allow us to assess fit and function of design changes. I have been seriously impressed by what the machine can do.
The machines are currently helping me re-design the main housing of the camera to improve the light seals ahead of printing our beta testing units. We can even print the parts in clear so I can see what’s going on inside the camera and iron out any issues before we manufacture pre-production batches. If you have been on the fence about owning one of the cheaper machines I can recommend it, with a little bit of time invested in understanding how to get the best from the machine you can make a big saving on bureau services in both time and cost.