Desktop dominance: How services are pushing professionalism from small 3D printers

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3D printing bureau Voodoo Manufacturing has a farm of over 100 Makerbot’s producing parts

As waning consumer interest dashes the dream of mainstream 3D printing among Joe Public, there is still bright hope for the petite printers left out there.

Businesses are springing up to take hold of the low costs and flexibility offered by FDM 3D printers, and sheer volume of them out there, either sitting unused or unsold.

For the last few years 3D Hubs has built its global network to over 23,000 localised 3D printers owners, all signed up to produce parts for anyone that needs them, with a customer satisfaction five-star ratings scheme similar to that which grades an Uber driver.

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The majority of printer owners are using desktop machines, and the sheer number of clients and printer owners make it one of the biggest single sources of 3D printing market data in the world.

Although things are changing at 3D Hubs, with its announcement to offer a global ‘industrial grade’ service – enlisting bureau services the size of Sculpteo and i.materialise to make industrial-grade 3D printing locally available – its main attraction still revolves around the flexibility, locality and low price of the smaller printers.

Taking these advantages in-house and en masse is New York service bureau Voodoo Manufacturing.

A group of ex-Makerbot engineers, the company runs over 100 Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printers, producing prototypes on machines that it can maintain (and if needed, replace) quickly and cheaply, with very low bulk order materials costs.

As would be expected of former in-house Makerbot staff, the machines are set-up to produce quality parts out of PLA that can be used as functional prototypes, models, an in some cases end-use parts.

The bulk of the workload is handled by the front-end software, giving instant quotes on single prints that can be uploaded via the browser, and offline project-specific quotes for up to 10,000 parts.

Taking this a step further, Voodoo makes available its order service to other sites via API, hooking its factory directly into another company’s application or service, and automatically routing orders to be manufactured, packaged, and shipped to the end-customer.

Voodoo is already signed up with online crafts marketplace Etsy as part of its new service, Etsy Manufacturing, across North America to hook up its thousands of sellers with a directory of manufacturers willing to work with smaller production numbers.

The positives of desktop 3D printers when set up and maintained correctly lend easily to an elastic means of manufacturing, offering an entry level bureau service likely to propagate the use of the technology further and with more realism than any consumer hype.