Friday, we pulled the trigger on ordering a 3D printer and scanner. The final selections were the Z Corp. Spectrum Z510 and ZScanner 800.
The final decision was made after a visit from Jason and Rob from Paperless Parts, the Value Added Reseller of the Z Corp machines. They came down within a days notice to show us the post processing methods for the printed parts. Below is an example of what a part looks like fresh out of the printer (Left) and a part that has been finished ("sealed" if you will) with one of Z Corp's epoxy resins (Right). You can see that the "green" part still has some of the powder from the printing process on it, whereas the finished part not only is powder free (after being blown off with compressed air), but has a more vibrant color.
These parts are HIGHLY accurate to the original part/design, even the very fine threads. As a visual representation of how accurate the parts that the printers produce, below is a picture of a portion of the LeMans Gas Cap, and the actual Gas Cap itself.
You will also notice that the printed part is done in several different colors! Not the prettiest color combination, but this is an excellent display of the printer's capabilities. When you see the part up close, the colors are very sharp, and there isn't any bleeding between the different sections what so ever. Furthermore, this is a good representation of how the printed part can be used as a communication tool. If we wanted to send this to a supplier, we could easily discuss specifications for the mounting holes (in blue on the outer rim), material specs for the fuel hose neck (in red) or the inside surface specification (in green). Having the ability to print a prototype we can give a supplier will cut down on errors and advance our time to market a great deal all in itself, but having the ability to use color for specs and quality control will help in an immeasurable amount.
A big "Thank You" goes out to Jason and Rob for all of their efforts in helping us make the right decision on what printer and scanner best suits our needs.
As I've mentioned in the past, these tools will be a great addition to the SolidWorks CAD package that we already have in house, and in some ways, they have already been beneficial. For example, while waiting for parts for the prototype to arrive so we can scan them in, I've already begun to draw the LM logo in SolidWorks with the intent of printing a few prototypes so we can have badges and other parts that will be embossed with the LM logo. My whole approach to this task is different knowing that I can print the prototypes here at our shop, THEN send a sample AND a drawing to the supplier to have the parts made.
I can't wait for the printer and scanner to arrive so we can get crackin' on scanning in parts for the prototype, and print out some prototypes for production parts!
Definitely more to come on this!