Ordering prototypes like they were fast food

Made To Spec: The Coming Age Of Prototyping As A Service

In the last decade, the price for making a single PCB plummeted. And we’ve featured tons of hacks with boards hailing from places like OSH Park or Seeed Studio. But this phenomenon isn’t isolated, and all sorts of one-off prototyping services are becoming cheaper and looking to satiate both hobbyist and engineer alike.

Today, I want to blow the lid off a few places offering one-off mechanical prototyping services. I’ll take us through some history of how we got here, introduce a few new players, and finally highlight some important tradeoffs before you start ordering bespoke aluminum parts straight to your doorstep.

Now go get your ANSI Z87+ safety glasses, and let’s get started.

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Laser Origami!

One of our tipsters just sent us a link to some fascinating videos on a new style of rapid prototyping — Laser Origami!

The concept is fairly simple, but beautifully executed in the included videos. A regular laser cutter is used to cut outlines of objects in clear lexan, then, by unfocusing the laser it slowly melts the bend lines, causing the lexan to fold and then solidify into a solid joint. It becomes even more interesting when they add in a servo motor to rotate the workpiece, allowing for bends of angles other than 90 degrees!

Depending on the part you are designing, this method of rapid prototyping far exceeds the speeds of a traditional 3D printer. The part shown in the included image could be printed in about 4 hours, or using the laser, cut and folded in 4 minutes flat!

Stick around after the break to see this awesome demonstration of the technology!

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