Several months ago I started exploring 3D printing for prototypes. My first experiences with Shapeways were educational and time well spent, but the end product was not of sufficient quality to send to a mold maker for reproduction. After months of interruptions with conventions, backlog commissions, deaths, births and wedding plans, I was finally able to send the original trash can model off to another company for a test sample.
The printing process there is different than the one at Shapeways. Rather than build in layers of powder that give some support to the model, this machine extrudes layers of resin that build upon themselves. Designs had to be tweaked to allow for support from the ground up.
Here is the set of 4 cans with the sprue supports and connections. They are upside down to show them more clearly.
I sent the file off and less than a week later I received the finished product.
I was surprised to see the additional supports that had been added. I examined things a while, called the printer and had a good discussion about what was going on with the build. Evidently I only need to add sprues if I actually want them to be part of the final production cast. That provides a good bit of design flexibility. I can also have several different parts printed in the same build as long as they all fit within the machine's design parameters. Cool.
The quality of the print is impressive. I can see every face of the object I modeled. Round sections like the sprues are round. And even the smallest details are crisp and sharp. This is definitely something I can send to be reproduced.
When you compare the Shapeways print to the new one you can see the difference. The material is much smoother. The details are sharper and cleaner in the new build. I also noticed that the Shapeways model is about 0.5mm taller than the other and the overall proportions are different. I still need to examine the computer model to see which one is more faithful to the drawing.
All in all, I'm pleased with the new printer. I'll probably still have to learn to tweak the files a bit to get exactly what I want. But, hey... it's all a learning experience.