I've stuck with commercial services for the moment as it looks like FDM printers in the affordable price range don't as yet have the resolution we need (and mostly because at the moment I don't need another learning curve to deal with), but in researching the subject I ran across these guys: http://trinitylabs.com who are local in Portland, and seem to have a fairly robust looking mechanism, using leadscrews rather than belts. When I have some bandwidth available I plan on getting one.
27" iMac Core i5, OS 10.8
I am quite a newbie myself but I am super excited that I found Fusion 360. I have built a Prusa Mendel with two friends (and it took way too long - whish I had bought an UltiMaker) and was looking for a tool chain to start creating models. We are still at the begining and adjusting the printer. On the software side it is even worse. No one of us has _any_ experience with CAD tools but from my first test with Fusion, most things seem quite intuitive. I have also tried FreeCAD and ViaCAD - both tools while inexpensive, lack very much on the usability side.
So far we plan to create models in Fusion 360 and export to .STL. Then check the file with Netfabb Basic (or Meshlab). Then use Slic3r to create G-Code and use Replicator-G to finally start printing. The only thing missing is a nice G-Code visualiser. I found a few browser based ones but nothing that shows me the exact path of the extruder. Right now I am testing Cura (from UltiMaker) and Pleasant 3D.
Oh and here is something else. When you have set-up your Replicator, you could create a "print server" that is accessible via your intranet. This way everyone in the office can queue printing jobs (and watch the progress via video stream):
I'm currently printing with a Solidoodle 2. I've got it printing nicely all the way down to .1mm (100micron) layer height, but I haven't tried anyting higher resolution than that.
To those who say desktop 3D printing can't do what commercial printers can, take a look at this.
From what I know, commerical FDM machines print at about 25 Microns, but some desktop 3D printers are going as low 20 microns.
Obviously there are technologies that haven't been brought to this realm of 3D printing, but I'd say we're on a good way for prototyping.
Those are some very impressive prints you linked to. I think 3D printing is about where personal computers were when they were just coming out of the kit phase (I'm old enough to have been there when they did). I'm very excited to see what directions this technology takes.
Our needs for resolution are kind of unusual, as we need to make containers for electronics that will withstand considerable pressure without leaking- so we need very smooth surfaces and tight tolerances over a distance to create good O-ring seals between components. So far I have been able to (just barely) prototype these using (commercial) SLA and (in house) CNC processes, taking the resulting parts and making silicone molds that allow the casting of duplicate parts in urethane. I have no doubt that 3D printers of some technology will be able to make this process far more flexible soon- maybe the time is already here. I'd love to start trying, if only there were more hours in the day.
27" iMac Core i5, OS 10.8
Adam - thanks for the tips. we've successfully printed several things now and are learning more and more about how to get the ideal results.
Have you seen any issues where particular files have issues or is everything generally pretty much expected to behave the same once you've got the .stl?
Funny you should mention, I'm having trouble getting a few STL's to print properly right now. Some guy generated them using the Shapeways 2D->3D converter, and they don't seem to want to print properly. I'm sure there are lots of potential issues if polys overlap in funny ways.
Not sure if anyone has mentioned Netfabb in here yet, but it should be able to find and repair any holes and non-manifold faces automatically. If it can't, it will highlight them and you can go in and fix things manually.
I haven't used a printer myself. I'd love to get one but I just can't justify the cost. However I have had a couple of models printed via Shapeways. One is a thing to wrap my earbuds cord around so it doesn't get tangled and the other is a sculpture of a kneeling woman that i did in 3D-Coat. You can see some pictures of the woman here:
Here are some more of my models, you can see how the earbud wrap came out on there too.