Introduction: Where to Manufacture a Product With 3D Printing

About: At LittleBots we are creating 3D Printed Robot Kits that get Kids excited about robotics and STEM

A lot of makers create all kinds of neat creations. Sometimes after having creating these projects, the response is so great that the creator decides they would like to manufacture the product and sell it through Etsy or Ebay to those people that love the project but can't build it themselves.

There are a number of routes to manufacturing. It is a broad space. But here we are going to talk specifically about manufacturing a part with 3D printing. Yes, production 3D Printing.

There are a number of resources available that are able to produce hundred or thousands of parts much more affordably than traditional desktop 3D Printing or especially injection molding. The technology and processes have reached a point where an individual creators can produce 100 pieces and sell those, and then grow to 1000 pieces without any steps in between.

In this post I would like to discuss the various additive manufacturing resources that are available to creators that want to scale up the production of their idea.

Step 1: Carbon 3D - High Volume SLA 3D Printing

For very intricate parts that require a smooth surface finish.

Carbon 3D manufactures high speed SLA 3D Printers using thier Carbon CLIP technology. These printers are used to create dentures, Bicycle seats, and even a line of shoes for Adidas.

The surface finish of SLA parts is very good, comparable to injection molding, but they can be expensive if they are very large or low volume. SLA is also able to handle very fine features well that are impossible with any of the other processes.

Carbon will connect you to services that use their technology. One of the most well known partners is Fast Radius. They have also worked with adidas to manufacture the Alphaedge 4D shoe.

Step 2: Slant 3D - Production FDM 3D Printing Service

Functional and cost effective alternative to injection molding at scales up to 100,000 pieces

Slant 3D operates one of the largest capacity 3D printer farms in the world. The original facility is able to produce 10,000 parts per week and Slant 3D is about to open an even larger facility with over 800 machines in the printer farm.

Slant 3D uses the FDM 3D Printing process, making it simpler to translate from your personal desktop machine prototypes to production. These parts are robust and excellent for functional products and industrial components. Slant 3D also produces pieces for consumer products and is able to fulfill orders as they are made.

Step 3: Forecast 3D - Multijet Fusion

Functional parts based in nylon for engineering and functional applications.

Forecast 3D actually utilizes a large number of 3D printing processes. A company that has been in operation since the 90's Forecast was among the first to implement HP Multijet Fusion. Today they operate 24 MJF machines and made more than 1 million parts in the first year.

MJF is a process that creates high surface finish parts that are nearly isotropic. But it is limited to gray/black coloring and is only viable for production on pieces that are smaller.

Step 4: Shapeways - Laser Sintering

Delicate and fine detail parts from specialty materials

Shapeways is easily one of the oldest 3D printing services. Started in 2007 they have established themselves as an online print on demand platform for designers. Shapeways offers predominantly laser sintering services. Which allows them to create fine detail items ranging from rubber-like plastic to gold.

If you are a jewelry designer or have a small and precise part to make Shapeways is a good option.

Step 5: Voodoo Manufacturing - FDM

One-off prints to test a part and potentially scale up to 100-1000

Voodoo Manufacturing is another larger FDM printer farm. Utilizing Replicator II Makerbot machines and Formlabs SLA parts Voodoo is able to produce 1-off parts very quickly and quite affordably. Their 3D Printer farm of nearly 150 machines also allows you to scale up production to nearly 1000 parts.