I’ve been utilizing “3D Printing” technology for about 15 years or so … long before it was called “3D Printing”. The technology has come a long way. I have had several FDM machines (the ones most of you are familiar with that use a plastic filament and extrude it through a heated nozzle) including a $105k machine that was the size of an American refrigerator. I’ve also had a few desktop versions over the years. These machines are great for quick prototypes and sometimes they are useful for masters that you are going put a lot of work into cleaning up and adding details to so that you can make a master for molding. In my opinion these FDM/FFF machines are still a long way from being ready to produce models that are ready for sale straight off the machine. …. and they may never be ready for that,,, that is not the purpose for which they were designed. They are prototyping machines.
There are people producing models on these machines and selling them ,,, and good luck to them, but I don’t think I’d ever consider a model made from FDM/FFF technology, especially anything with low sloped surfaces (think of the hood (bonnet) of a car or the wing of an airplane,,, the layer lines create a stair-step look that in my opinion is unacceptable. If you are considering purchasing a model made with this technology, insist on very close up (Macro) photos, not photos taken from a foot away or more.
The gold standard in additive manufacturing (AKA “3D Printing”) is Stereophotography (SLA). This is the process where a vat of liquid resin is cured one very tiny layer at a time by either a laser or DLP projector. These machines create models with nearly no discernible layer lines at all and require little clean up. Still, I would not take a model straight off a SLA machine and paint it and use it. I have an SLA machine in my shop and I use often to create masters that will eventually be molded. But when you think of any technology like this, you have to think of it as just one more tool in your arsenal of tools. When I create a master on my SLA machine, that is just the first step in the process. There are hours of additional work that is done after the 3D model is “printed”.
These technologies are here to stay and they are getting better and cheaper all the time. My machine cost several thousand dollars, but just a few years ago I would not have been able to get anything on this level for less than the cost of a very nice European luxury automobile. Additive Manufacturing will continue to impact and shape our industry … but I do not see a huge change coming anytime soon. You still need talented model makers to work with what the machines produce and then you need mold makers and casters to take it from there. Just designing something in your favorite CAD program and pressing “Print” on the machine is just step one in a lengthy process.
These are just the opinions of a 30+ year full-time professional model maker … your opinions may differ. But this is what I do for a living 🙂
My Blog: www.allensmicroarmor.com