A Review of 3D Printing Services: Shapeways, 3D Hubs and Makerbot In-Store Printing (for PX4 and Pixhawk mounts)

This review compares three 3D printing services available to me in the New York City area, all of them local and two of them able to ship. I had them all print a set of anti-vibration mounts for the awesome PX4 and Pixhawk flight controllers from 3D Robotics. The cost of the service and the quality of the output differed more than I expected, and I wanted to share my findings here.

To summarize, I got the highest quality result, best service, and almost the best cost too, from Shapeways. while I liked the (very slightly) lower cost and great service offered by 3D Hubs, the quality of output wasn't quite on par with Shapeways, though it was still very good. Both the Shapeways and 3D Hubs prints were set up mostly on-line, and both were painless.

On the other hand, Makerbot's new in-store 3D printing service was the worst, being not only the most expensive of the three (50% more than Shapeways) and the most time-consuming to set up, but also producing the worst results. I definitely do not recommend getting anything printed in-store at Makerbot.

Overall, I'd say Shapeways was the best, and they have my strongest recommendation. However, unless you live near their facility in Long Island City, you have to wait additional time for the print to be shipped to you. Given that, for jobs needing faster turnaround for which you're willing to physically go somewhere to pick up the print, I recommend 3D Hubs.


Introduction

After getting rid of my unreliable and unsafe DJI NAZA flight controller, I have switched to the ArduCopter software running on the PX4 platform, and I'm a happy customer. Neither the PX4 nor the Pixhawk comes with internal vibration dampening for the sensors, so to use them on multirotors you have to provide your own vibration isolation. I started out using MoonGel, which works but is messy. Then I discovered these awesome Omnimac 3D printed anti vibration mounts:

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:163523
http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:163472

Here's what the mounts look like fully assembled, here supporting my PX4FMU with PX4IO board. The mount shown here is the one printed by Sylvia via 3D Hubs (the cheapest of the three).


Reviews

I had all three services print four parts, two for the PX4 mount and two for the Pixhawk mount.

Shapeways

Cost: $42.59 (+$7.08 for 2-day UPS shipping had I not picked it up) inc. tax; would have been as low as $32 without the author's mark-up
Pricing: by volume
Order placed: Friday 3/21/2014
Ready for pickup: Tuesday 3/25/2014 (or delivered on Thursday 3/27/2014)
Total time: 4 calendar days, 2 business days (+ 2 for shipping)
Printer: SLS, white strong + flexible

Shapeways was the easiest order to place, because the mounts have already been uploaded on their website by the author, Guy McCaldin (see https://www.shapeways.com/shops/01robotics). Guy charges $5 more (per mount) than the normal Shapeways cost because he's raising money for a trip to Africa, so the true cost is likely around $32, and I confirmed this using Shapeways' pricing tools.

If you are in NYC you can pick up your parts directly from their production facility in Long Island City, which is what I did (and they refunded the shipping costs). I got to meet their very friendly and helpful customer service reps and see their awesome, and rapidly expanding, facilities. If you're not, you'd have to wait additional time for shipping.

I was very pleased by the quality of the results from Shapeways. The parts are perfectly smooth and the fine details of the mounts show clearly (notice the tiny arrow on one piece). The cost was reasonable, being between the low price of 3D Hubs and the extortionate rate of Makerbot. The service was also very fast - just 2 business days in this case - and the CSRs told me apparently if your model is straightforward, not too big or complex, and is likely to print perfectly the first time, the actual lead time can be much lower than the ~1 week quoted on the website.

Here's the box that my models were packed in:


Inside the box, I found two professional-looking zip-lock bags protecting the two mounts.


Here are the pieces. They are absolutely flawless.



3D Hubs

Cost: $24.56 inc. tax
Pricing: by volume, + start-up cost
Order placed: Friday 3/21/2014
Ready for pickup: Monday 3/24/2014
Total time: 3 calendar days, 1 business day
Printer: Makerbot Replicator 2

For just $7 less than Shapeways, I had the same models printed via the 3D Hubs service, which connects owners of desktop 3D printers with people who want to print. There are 59 print hubs registered in New York, and I chose one with good pricing and reviews (see http://www.3dhubs.com/new-york/hubs/sylvia).

I was very impressed by how smooth the process was. The models were checked by 3D Hubs before being sent to Sylvia, and within 1 business day I got an email telling me my parts were ready to be picked up. Sylvia was very friendly, and the print came out perfect. She'd already cleaned it up for me, removing the rafts and supports that the models were printed on. I was very impressed.

Of course, desktop 3D printers can't produce the same high quality of output as a professional SLS printer. All the surfaces are rough, and the curves in the corners aren't smooth, as you can see here. For this job, smoothness really doesn't matter, so these parts are perfectly usable.



Makerbot NYC

Cost: $59.88 inc. tax
Pricing: by time
Order placed: Saturday 3/22/2014
Ready for pickup: Monday 3/24/2014
Total time: 2 calendar days, 1 business day
Printer: Makerbot Replicator 2

Makerbot launched their in-store 3D printing service back in December 2013, just 3 months ago as of the time of writing.

This was the most expensive of the three services. They charge by print time. With rafts, these models took 4 hours to print, for which they charge $55. Only one of the parts really needed supports and rafts, but their Makerbot software forces either all the parts to print with rafts and supports, or none of them. The staff tried to split the job into one print of one part with rafts and supports, which would have taken 2 hours, then a separate print of the remaining three parts with no rafts or supports, which would have taken an hour. However, for this they would have charged $35 for 2 hours printing + $20 for 1 hour, for a total of... yes, $55, exactly the same price as 4 hours despite taking only a little over half the time.

The process to get the print started in the store was slow. I had to fill in the same form on paper, and then also on an iPad, and sign T&Cs. I had to bring the models in on an SD card. Just discussing raft and support options, and the implications on the price, etc., took an additional 30 minutes or so, not least because we had to wait several minutes for the Makerbot software to export to find out how long each proposed print would take. Once everything was set up though, the actual turn-around time of 2 calendar days wasn't too bad, and they called when it was ready to pick up.

When I got the parts, I immediately discovered that they hadn't removed the rafts and supports. Apparently they don't do that for the customer because they don't want to take the risk that they break something, which is fair enough - but customers cannot be expected to be experts on removing these things. Here's what I received:

It took me an additional hour to remove the rafts and supports. The staff told me I could just break them off with my fingers, but that was far, far from the truth. I had to use a Stanley knife, and it was a painstaking process. Worse, I broke one of the parts into four pieces, as you can see below. I have tried to glue them back together, but without success - the part remains fragile. The mount on the left was essentially a loss.
Furthermore, removing the supporting material left a very rough surface. Compare the smooth Shapeways print (left) to the Makerbot store print (right), and you can see just how rough it is. It's not unusable, but it's close. I wasn't given any instructions or tools for smoothing away the remnants of the supports.

I definitely would not recommend getting anything printed in-store at Makerbot.

Views: 11640

Comment by Steve on March 25, 2014 at 11:10pm

Was 3D hubs done with ABS filament? And yikes at that makerbot quality. I would never sell a print that looked that terrible.

Comment by lloydm on March 25, 2014 at 11:22pm
The 3D Hubs print was done using PLA filament, as was the Makerbot store print. And I agree, nor would I, especially for that price.
Comment by Jethro Hazelhurst on March 26, 2014 at 12:35am

Wow! The rest look pro, but Makerbot definitely gave an amateur performance there. Selective laser sintering definitely gives a better finish compared to filament deposition.

OWikipedia: O (named o plural oes) is the fifteenth letter and a vowel in the ISO basic Latin alphabet.


Distributor
Comment by RC Tech.se on March 26, 2014 at 3:08am

I cannot understand how Makerbot choose raft and support material for a PLA print (and why they even choose PLA in the first place). It is impossible to remove compared to ABS which is easy to tear off. I will throw down the gauntlet here and make an attempt for a good ABS print tonight.

Comment by Brandon on March 26, 2014 at 10:19am

I much prefer http://www.makexyz.com/ for 3D printing. Much more economical and local. You get to work directly with local 3D printers in your area.


Distributor
Comment by RC Tech.se on March 26, 2014 at 10:32am

Printed in Iris flavored ABS (No support needed, rafts removed in 30 secs)

Printing time1:30

Weight:10 gr

Click here for full resolution images (http://www.rctech.se/image/abs.zip)

Matthew: You can PM me your adress and i will ship them to you for inspection :-)


Distributor
Comment by RC Tech.se on March 26, 2014 at 10:37am

Yes, it needs some cleaning up but that is beyond the scope of this experiment

Comment by lloydm on March 26, 2014 at 12:07pm

Looks great! Nice work. I'll PM you my address. What printer did you use?

Comment by Joshua Johnson on March 26, 2014 at 12:11pm

This is why 3D Hubs is the "Official 3D Printing Service" of CADDrones.com! :)


Distributor
Comment by RC Tech.se on March 27, 2014 at 6:35am

@Mattew: I use a Wanhao Duplicator 4X

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