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3D printing services

We have a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer allowing prints of 3D models in PLA down to 100µm layers and an overall size of 285mm x 153mm and 155mm high.

3D printing is ideal for :-

  • Prototype parts and casework
  • Casework for Raspberry pi and similar electronics
  • Replacement parts
  • Models and sculptures
  • Engineering parts, adapters and fixings
  • Fun!

Designing models

There are many free and chargeable tools available to design and/or scan in 3D models. Different packages are better for more art style projects and sculptures, but there are also more technical modeling tools. We tend to use openscad, which is a free scripted modeling tool.

Turnaround time

Some models can take many days to print, and if we have a large job before yours this can add delay. However, we do not generally have a queue of print jobs and can usually get your job started the day you order. If you have an urgent requirement please do let us know.

File formats and tips

Most modelling tools can work in a variety of formats, and we recommend you produce final output in STL format. The STL file format consists of sets of triangles. We can load the STL file in to the Makerware package to produce a final print file for the printer. This also allows us to see the object on screen.

If you send an STL file, we will need to know some of the options for the print. By default we use the default 200µm layer print and 15% infill and raft, but if you have preferences, please do let us know. The Makerware software is free to download and use, so you can try out the options and see how the print would go on screen. These options will affect the price. The software can also give an estimate of weight of material used, but this is only an estimate.

If you prefer, you can use the Makerware package to make a final print file and send that to us. Please ensure you use a raft (see print errors, below).

The Makerbot Replicator 2 has a print area of 285 x 153mm and 155mm high. We recommend loading your model in to the Makerware package to confirm it fits.

Colours

PLA is available in a number of colours, both translucent and opaque as well as clear. We have various colours in stock, and can order additional colours if necessary. If you want specific brands/colours, please ask for a quote as some suppliers are much more expensive.

There are some specialist PLA, including woodfill, which is 30% wood, so comes out much like MDF. It is a bit more brittle than normal PLA. We even have some flexible rubber type materials which can be used.

Normally colours are consistent from reel to reel, but we cannot guarantee that colours will match exactly between reels and we may have to change a reel during a print in some cases. This is especially true for natural/clear PLA.

Print errors

There are a number of reasons that a print can fail. These can normally be avoided by careful design of your model, and choice of printing options.

  • Overhangs and printing in mid air. An overhang of around 45 degrees can normally be printed with no problem, shallower overhangs can work but are usually not as smooth, and gaps can sometimes be bridged. However, it is possible for a bad design to leave PLA extruding in to thin air creating a pile of spaghetti like plastic. Use of printed supports can normally address this, either manually added to the model or selected as automatic support material from the print options.
  • Falling over can occur if printing without a raft, or with too small an area in contact with the bed - this leaves the print on its side and again a pile of spaghetti. Always use a raft in the print options and try and arrange for the design to have a large area flat on the print bed. In some cases adding manual supports to the design creates extra stability during printing.
  • In some cases the extruder nozzle can jam - this is rare but has been seen where a design has vast amounts of support material causing the filament to be retracted and fed repeatedly. It can also happen if you use an infill that is too high, we recommend never using more than 90% infill. Consider adding supports manually or using lower infill.

We do not normally watch the print, but will usually check on it periodically. We may leave a large print over night. However, if we see that the print had failed like this we will stop the print job at that point. In such cases we will charge a lower rate for the materials used, and send you a picture of what was produced. You can ask for this to be sent to you if you wish (for postage costs).

If the print fails due to a failure on our part - such as power cut, or some mistake we make, we will re-do the print at no extra cost.

Imperfections

There are a number of cases where printing may not be considered perfect, but the print job has not actually failed. Many of these can be addressed by changes to the design of the model or print options.

  • As the PLA cools it contracts and this can mean a large object can curl up or warp away from the print bed. In most cases this does not cause the print to fail as such but does mean the final result is not as flat as the original design. Changes to the design can address some of these issues, as can printing smaller items.
  • When using translucent or transparent PLA, the internal structure of the infill can be seen. Even when not doing so, the surface texture of can reflect changes in the internal infill meaning some surfaces may not be totally smooth. This is just part of the print process.
  • When printing distinct parts of a model, or multiple items, the head moves from one to another without extruding. However, this can lead to some stringing between items. This is easily removed in most cases but can leave the surface less smooth as a result. This can often be addressed by printing separate items separately. This is not usually any problem, but is particularly noticeable when printing at 100µm layer thickness or using woodfill PLA.
  • Shallow overhangs will usually work, but can have loops and rough edges as a result of trying to print in thin air. Adding supports can help with this.
  • Some PLA, notably the black, will show stress marks in white where the PLA is separated from the raft. In general the base layer (attached to raft) and flat top layers of print do look different to other surfaces. This is just a feature of the printing.

Prints are provided as is, and the charges are for the raw materials and use of the machine. It is up to you to consider these factors in your design.

Pricing

We operate a very simple pricing model - the final output of the machine is weighed and charged at 30p+VAT/g. Postage is added at cost. This price covers renting the machine, use of staff to operate the machine, and raw materials.

If you wish to print at 100µm layer thickness, the price increases to 60p+VAT/g. Printing at 100µm takes roughly twice as long but does not use much more plastic.

If you have a failed print, we will only charge 5p+VAT/g.

Weight is for all material used and includes raft and support materials.

Legal

If we were to produce and sell 3D models then we would need to ensure we comply with a wide variety of legislation, not least of which is Product Safety, Toy Safety, CE marking, Copyright, Design rights, Patents, and Trademarks. Given that we would be printing models provided by customers, many of which we would not even see before printing, it would be impractical and prohibitively expensive for us to act as manufacturer or distributer of any such models.

Fortunately, many of these rules do not apply if printing something yourself. There is even an exception in The Patent Act for private, non commercial use. As such, our service is sold as follows:-

  • For a period of time necessary to complete the 3D printing we will rent to you one of our 3D printers. The printer remains in our office. For some printers you may be able to access and control it over the Internet. You could attend our offices to control the printer. If you are unable to do so, we will provide use of our trained staff to act on your instructions and operate the printer on your behalf.
  • We will supply raw materials such as coloured PLA filament for use in the printer. We sell this to you by the gram. The PLA is not food grade, and whilst PLA itself is probably safe, we do not know what additives and colourants there may be in the PLA supplied.
  • You acknowledge that for the purposes of all relevant legislation that you are the manufacture of any items produced. As you are paying for the raw materials and rent of the printer the items produce already belong to you and we do not sell them to you.
  • You indemnify us against any claims made in relation to the items produced.

Obviously if you wish to sell items you produce then you will need to consider any relevant legislation and regulations that apply to you.