The “big” package from Shapeways

The “big” package from Shapeways arrived this week and out rolled an array of details that should save a lot of modelling time for this engine and her sisters. They are all printed with Shapeways’s “Smoothest Fine Detail Plastic” and I have to admit I’m impressed. Except in a couple of places, like the equalizing levers where there was a shallow angle, there are no discernable layers.

Incidentally, some of the parts needed additional supports for printing. I made the sprues themselves quite heavy, but then connected them to the parts with short cylinders that are Shapeways’ minimum wall thickness for this material. I’m hoping this makes it easier to remove the parts without damaging them.

The valve gear on its (orange) sprue. Note the short cylinders attaching the part to the sprue.

I have to wonder how much longer I will continue to use Shapeways for this sort of printing. I’ll still go to them for more exotic prints, like metal for the foreseeable future. However, because I was trying to get 622 ready for the Railway Modellers’ Meet, I expedited the order to get it here in about ten days. Speed plus (standard) shipping plus the handling fee charged by Canada Post for collecting the taxes added up to nearly $50. The parts themselves were a reasonable cost, but with resin 3D printers coming down into the $300-$400 range and producing excellent results, you don’t need very many shipments to justify buying your own.

3 thoughts on “The “big” package from Shapeways

  1. Ah, the whole “buy vs. build” dilemma…

    I have a lot of structures custom laser cut. I have contemplated investing in a laser cutter but I doubt I ever will. Why?
    • Unwilling to invest the time and materials to become an “expert” in their use but happy to pay for someone else’s expertise
    • Unwilling to invest (and keep in investing) in hardware and software to keep up with the state of the art
    • Space and maintenance
    • No need to build up an inventory of all the different materials I may wish to use
    • I am ok with being a trade shop’s 2nd (or 3rd) priority…they get to fill in a bit of their unused capacity and it keeps my costs down
    • I am ok investing the time to build up a relationship with several trade shops – and learn their different protocols(!) – because they all seem to have their specialty with varying materials, costs, turn round times, quality levels, etc. and I am never truly single-sourced.

    So for me I pay a bit more (25$-50$ per structure?) but I keep the investment waaayyyyy down. And the precious hobby time I would have had to invest in just getting to the same capability I can now buy can instead go into custom design work for structures only I will ever want.

    My $0.02


    1. Your item #2 is a pretty big consideration with 3D printing. I feel like for SLA printers, we’re about where digital cameras were in the early 2000s.
      Here is the other side of the coin:
      1. I’m sick of paying all the shipping, duty and brokerage.
      2. SLA printers are already much cheaper than laser cutters. The payback time is much shorter.
      3 The turn-around time is really long, especially if you are inclined to batch up items because you want to be more efficient with (1). This means you can’t experiment adequately.

      The brokerage and shipping for #622 on Shapeways parts are already about $80, despite trying to avoid multiple shipments. If I include the etched parts, and two shipments from Digi-key, I bet I am up to ~$150 for fees alone! That is a substantial amount even compared to the total cost of the parts, which is probably only around $300 so far (including photo tools for etching).

      1. And of course we have different “utility functions” we are trying to optimize!

        For me the key is “And the precious hobby time I would have had to invest (in just getting to the same capability which I can buy) can instead go into custom design work for structures only I will ever want.”

        My premium goes on having the resulting structure and less the process of getting there. Especially when the actual “printing” activity will commoditize such that I doubt a trade shop will end up making more than 3-5% profit…which is a standard, undifferentiated machine shop profit b4 tax. I can invest my time in the stuff only I can do efficiently or at least where I have a relative advantage…where my opportunity cost gives me my best return: populating the layout with prototypically recognizable structures.

        But I know everyone’s utility function is different!

        (Economics is an error-prone predictor of human behavior but its the best one we have 🙂 )


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