TL;DR I’ve been blown away with the on-demand manfacturing experience getting some small hobby projects done by Xometry for 3D printing ad professional CNC milling. I’ve added headings to make my long post easy to navigate.
I’ve got various hobby projects on the go and found myself needed some nice 3D printing. I don’t have a 3D printer and don’t think I have the space, time or budget for one. I want to use those for the Longmill CNC projects.
3D printing, it it’s current hobby state is quite a commitment and I want more flexibility so I have been exploring how to outsource 3D prints and other CNC milling work to the new platforms that have popped up. I wanted to see if it was easy and accessible but also affordable and fast. Plus I wanted to see how the quality of higher end professional manufacturing machines compared to DIY stuff.
POWERTOOL BATTERY ADAPTER PROJECT
I wanted to make a battery adapter to be able to use batteries from one of my set of power tools on another from a different brand. After careful research it was clear this was safe and reasonable with the two brands in question (do your own research on this - can be a dangerous) so I set about cobbling something together by cutting up a USB battery adapter from one vendor and joining it to the top half of a battery (the post/connectors) from a second vendor.
It worked great conceptually but I didn’t want to go the “epoxy the crap out of dremeled plastic” route for the finished product. Instead I wanted to make a slim wedge/adapter layer that allowed existing mounting holes and forms to meet up smoothly and be low profile. I like when things look nice (and last a long time and be safe). Now could I get it made for a reasonable price?
LOOKED AROUND, GOT QUOTES, DECIDED TO TRY OUT XOMETRY
Wow, the on-demand manufacturing space is incredible. With the help of a friend’s son who is very good with CAD/CAM (thanks to years on a competitve high school robotics team) we were able to whip up a nice and compact design to mate all the stuff together. We did have to buy a small pack of tension springs for the battery release buttons.
Once we had the design, we put the STL files out to various names for quotes and Xometry had the best pricing so I pulled the trigger on some SLS Nylon prints (after I learned what that is!). Even at quantity of 1 I was able to do the main piece and the two release buttons for ~$50 (then I spent a few bucks to get the colours I wanted). Which is similar to what a guy on Craigslist locally was quoting me to do it in SLA on his home printer. So much nicer quality and repeatability and a chance to test Xometry for the same price as a hobby local SLA print. That surprised me.
If you have something you want to get 3D printed and don’t have access to a 3D printer or want to get it done in quantity, I HIGHLY recommend trying out Xometry. They have this almost frictionless process where you upload each component as an STL/STEP etc. file and they can instantly quote you.
I couldn’t believe how easily it worked and since there is lots of built in help/support (like a nice page that explains what all the finish options are and shows photos of them) I was able to upload the part, choose my desired settings, choose from 3 pricing options (based on delivery time and country of manufacture desired) and pull the trigger. It literally took less than 10 minutes. Shipping times and costs are all shown live with the quote.
If you use this link ( Create an Account ) you’ll get a $50 credit towards your first project. Heck, that may cover all of the project if you want to make a few little adapters and goodies for around your shop. Which reminds me, I need to make a no-snag end-cap for my track saw track. My house and power cord keep catching on it during cuts…
SO WHAT DO THE PARTS LOOK LIKE?
The first parts (the buttons to release the battery, unfortunately the smaller part) arrive today with the designer in Atlanta. The main body should arrive Tuesday. Super stoked to have the parts in hand and put it all together. I’ll post photos and update this thread so you can see how they turned out. Should have initial pics tomorrow and more next Wednesday.
SUPER ACCESSIBLE - THIS IS GOING TO REALLY CHANGE THINGS
What is amazing about the platform is how accessible it is even for hobbyists and small businsses. It’s clearly built for larger engineering and product design teams and they can scale to 50K or 100K or more parts and very complex projects, but it also scales down really easily.
In my previous life I did some prototype and production projects via www.protocase.com (shout out to them, nice work and they’re Canadian!) and I also worked with a high end local metal shop that had lots of CNC presses etc. (https://www.metalcraft.ca/) The work was well taken care of in the professional sense but definitely not something you could easily do small personal or hobby/side business projects with them. Cost and barrier to entry were just too high.
Xometry keep all your designs nicely organized (and version tracked if you make changes!) on your profile so you can quickly re-order a part you previously dialed in and built with just a few clicks. Somebody definitely paid close attention to how Amazon made ordering so easy.
For each order they have this nice status page that was definitely inspired by the Domino’s pizze ordering page. If you’ve ever ordered from them you may recall that if you leave the page open it updates from Order Received > Making your Pizza > Baking your Pizza > It’s on the way
Here is part of my “open order” screen with the neat status bar:
If you want to try it out, use this link ( Create an Account ) for that US$50 credit and to set up your free account. Upload a CAD file and you’ll have an instant quote. I’m trying to stop myself from wondering around Search Thingiverse - Thingiverse and printing every fun thing I find. So many smart ideas there. And even a 60’s VW bus you can print. And some neat shop tools/accessories too. I discovered so much stuff just punching in keywords from my favorite hobbies.
I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes and what other projects I kick off with them. It still boggles my mind how you can access millions of dollars of manufacturing from your desktop. This is definitely the future for hobbyists and small businesses.