3D Printing as a Service

I've been waiting to receive a parcel so I could write this post, and I just got it today.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I wanted to try an online 3D-Printing service. The part that I wanted to print was relatively large, so there was the factor of convenience in not printing it myself. Also, it was a chance to get something 3D-printed in a different material, and try out a third-party 3D-printing (3P3P?) service.

The service I decided to use was 3DHubs.com. I was immediately impressed. I uploaded my file and was automatically shown quotes from "hubs" near me. The prices diverged wildly, leading me to speculate that different hubs used different ways of calculating the price (e.g. file size/number of faces vs. calculated volume of material to extrude—just my speculation).

Instant quotes were available as soon as .stl file was uploaded

I went with the IMRC Center at the University of Maine since it was the best price near me and they had the material I wanted: Laybrick (see here and here).

After selecting the printing hub, and them confirming they will accept the job, I paid (they even gave the option to pay in Bitcoin!) and arranged shipping. If I understand correctly, the site holds the payment until the order is completed, adding some confidence to the arrangement and keeping one's credit card information from being too widely shared.

I received periodic text message updates as the printed object was completed and shipped, which was nice.

Here is the finished product:

The finished product

As an update to my post on the economics of 3D printing, it looked like a lot of the hubs were institutions (universities, libraries, etc.) that had 3D printers. By accepting jobs from 3DHubs, they can keep their printers from sitting idle too much.