Ponoko and SparkFun + 3D Printing


I had noodles with Derek and David of Ponoko during my New Zealand trip back in January of this year (here's video interview by Marcus Schappi from Little Bird from the trip). Derek and David were amazing people, wonderful hosts, and had some incredible ideas. Their primary idea was to create a Star Trek replicator. Ponoko envisions the ability to hit a button on the wall, a small door opens, and the widget that we wanted then pops out of the wall. But if that is still science fiction today, how close can we get? It's this challenge that made me so excited to team up with Ponoko.

Imagine a product that helps you, specifically, with your specific problem. Take for example, the mechanical tuning of pianos. Not everyone needs to tune a piano, but for sake of argument let us say there are 10 people that do. Those 10 people really want a widget that helps them, and they understand that Yamaha is not going to help them out because Yamaha believes there is not enough of a market to justify the product development. If a person could design a product, she would have a market of 10 people. The 10 people understand that the product may not be as shiny or as polished as Yamaha, but as long as it works, they may be willing to try it out.

So that's what Ponoko is offering. You create the mechanical housing and piece together the electronic bits that are needed to complete the 'product'. When the end customer (the piano tuner) goes to buy the auto-magical piano tuning device, they place their order on Ponoko, and three boxes show up at their door two weeks later: a box of plastic pieces from Ponoko, a box of electronics from SparkFun, and a box containing assembly instructions from the designer. It's not quite a little door on the wall, but if you're getting a widget that does what you need it to do, it's getting scarily close.

And just recently, Ponoko added 3D printing as a service. This opens up so many new doors! I'm excited to see the collaboration develop. Ponoko has a beautiful website with clear pricing, many different materials (corrugated cardboard?!), lots of great material information and wonderful example photos. My head begins to spin with possibilities...


Comments 18 comments

  • Eye-2-Eye offers 3D Printing solutions for dental application, which makes 3D printing of models faster, more economical, predictable, consistent and accurate. http://www.eye2eye.com.sg/ 3d printing singapore

  • Great idea. Ponoko’s laser cutting was a little pricey tho. But probably not unfair.

    • Yeah, I’m sure they make a killing off of the per-minute cutting charge, but I look at it as an “ease-of-use” fee… just like the occasional steep mark-up on here. There are other places to get what you need, but no one else makes it as easy. So it’s worth the extra couple bucks.

  • I’ve ordered from Shapeways in the past and just sent them a batch of christmas presents to build. On demand 3D printing like this is great. I imagine Ponoko will do well with it also–nice to see some competition in the game. It sure makes more sense than buying a Makerbot and then realizing you really dont have that much to print. Much better quality than Makerbot as well.<br />
    <br />
    On the other hand, it gets real expensive once you get beyond jewelry-sized objects and is pretty tricky to create from scratch for those of us with minimal CAD skills. A 3D printer optimized version of something like SketchUp would be quite helpful–you can do it on SketchUp but it could be easier for the occasional user.

    • BBB - I agree, the cost 3D printing is okay for small things, but the material cost becomes problematic as objects get larger. Some of the other physical constraints are problematic too.<br />
      <br />
      This is one area where I feel CNC machining could be so helpful. The structure of, for example, a large machine (a reprap?) is relatively affordable if it is made of mass-produced commodity materials, e.g. steel, aluminium, plastic, wood, …<br />
      <br />
      Of course, the physical and aesthetic properties of those materials are much wider than 3D printed plastic, so there are a lot more things we can do with them.<br />
      <br />
      The machining tolerances and finish quality of CNC machining can far exceed 3D printers too.<br />
      <br />
      I want to encourage folks to experiment with low-cost CAD-based personal manufacture, and really make the atoms, not just the pixels. ‘CAD literacy’ should improve :-) <br />
      <br />
      IMHO 3D printing is amazing, but a tiny fraction of the interesting and usable things we could make, so we need other on-demand personal manufacturing processes too.<br />
      <br />
      I hope this will also stimulate the software and services. <br />
      <br />
      Right now it feels like an uphill struggle to use Open Source software for personal manufacture. I am hoping fablab will teach me a better approach.

      • Yeah, my FireFox Toolbar is basically a mass-collection of “personal manufacturing” sites. Everything from Ponoko to Shapeways to spoonflower (fabric) and so on. I wrote a LONG rant awhile ago on how incredible it is that we’ve even come this far in allowing casual inventors to materialize “finished” products. Very cool stuff and I wish more people took advantage, perhaps that’s the job of a separate site completely: to act as a hub for makers to point them and their files in the right direction for what they want to fabricate. <br />
        Thinking about your school children problem, an interesting way to work around that is if there were an older class who could take on the special project of building and maintaining/improving a simple desktop CNC router. There are kits all over the internet, and the cost is drastically lower than finished units (especially when built by child-labo…cough…“eager students”.

        • The only time i ever used a CNC milling machine was in a Middle School tech class. It’s a great way to teach materials, design AND programming.

  • Ooops, I should add … <br />
    <br />
    Please don’t interpret my comments as criticism of Ponoko. I wish them every success, and all the other companies who reduce the barrier to entry for personal manufacturing. These companies are liberating unexpressed talent across the world. <br />
    <br />
    It feels like there is a web site missing; it might collect together links for all of the small-volume ‘personal manufacturing’ companies. A bit like Freeduino.org. <br />
    <br />
    Or it might advertise or charge a small commission. It might become a bit like a product comparison web site, but for personal manufacturing services rather than end products. I should say, I normally hate product comparison web sites, so that may be an awful approach.<br />
    <br />
    The Makezine community isn’t it. Mabe this is something valuable for Sparkfun to do?

  • Sorry to be a bit “bah humbug” but this kind of service has been available since Shapeways.com came on line. More than two years ago? I think folks in my part of the universe got it back then.<br />
    <br />
    It moved a step closer when Farnell bought CadSoft, and released a version of Eagle which integrates Eagle with the Farnell parts catalogue and ordering (I haven’t checked to see if RS have the same facility with designspark, but it must be on the way). [I was told a couple of months ago that one of them will make the prototype PCB too, but I haven’t seen that yet.]<br />
    <br />
    Of course, Seeedstudio will take a design, make prototypes, then produce the production electronics and sell it from their web site for you. This stuff is real atoms, not just bits. Atoms and electrons don’t always do what you hoped, so quick, easy prototyping is critical. I assume Fritzing will make this still more approachable once they get everything working.<br />
    <br />
    Some of the proprietary PCB design systems also produce 3D models, making it simpler to design the physical parts to fit properly. This really helps if it is a ‘mechatronic’ item, where, for example, the electronics is directly detecting the behaviour of some of the mechanics. So that is an area where the Open Source community might give some help. Maybe KiCAD makes 3D models of the electronics to make case design easier?<br />
    <br />
    It feels odd that I haven’t found an online company like Shapeways, but which offers manufacturing using subtractive processes like CNC milling. Can anyone point me there? The strength and finish quality of those ‘subtractive’ processes can far exceed anything 3D printing can achieve; custom mag-alloy wheel hubs with integral PoV twitter message display anyone?-)<br />
    <br />
    I find it very interesting that Sparkfun have only just mentioned this. The world of ‘Making’ seems so close-knit, and I feel like it is all, pretty much, homogeneous. But maybe not.

    • Shapeways is $1.50 per cm3 for their white strong and flexible and Ponoko is $0.80. Not sure if they’re the same material though so I’ll wait until I get a test part to join the bah humbug group. Ponoko looks like they might have a better turn around time compared to shapeways too(5-10 compared to 10). I’ve been a pretty big shapeways fan but if the Ponoko stuff is the same then they’re going to get our prototypes for sure.

    • http://www.emachineshop.com/<br />
      <br />
      I have not used them, but some people have thought their prices seemed a bit high. Download their simple software, CAD it up, it gives you a price quote, click “order” and away you go…<br />
      <br />
      - Steve

      • I used emachineshop.<br />
        <br />
        NOT RECOMMENDED.<br />
        <br />
        A much better resource was using a local machineshop.

      • steve - Thank you!<br />
        <br />
        I’d heard about an outfit like that, but never found them! Thank you very much.<br />
        <br />
        I agree their prices seem too high, especially for the simple stuff I want to make. Even worse with international shipping I suspect :-(<br />
        <br />
        I want school children to be able to take a basic design, and extend, enhance and improve it. A bit like a Scratch project, but with atoms as the result. So maybe 20 related one-offs, rather than 6 identicals. A reasonable number of UK schools have laser cutters, but fewer use CNC machining which gives many more interesting options.<br />
        <br />
        I did realise just after posting, that I recently learned about fablab at the Madlabs Robot Hackathon. So we are planning a day trip to fablab. I am very excited.<br />
        <br />
        {begin rant:<br />
        It frustrates me that (in the UK) we fund pretty useful engineering workshops in universities, many from the “public purse”. Most of them are idle at weekends. Many of the obstacles to wider use seem to be insurance, health and safety, and staff and user training.<br />
        <br />
        It doesn’t feel like it is ‘beyond the wit of man’ to solve the problems, but there seems to be no incentive :-(<br />
        <br />
        This feels bad when engineering is dwindling, and appalling when folks are losing jobs; free access to an engineering shop might be enough to help folks create jobs!<br />
        end rant}<br />
        <br />
        Ignoring my rant (sorry about that), you’ve pointed me in a useful direction. More experiments are bubbling away in my brain :-) <br />
        <br />
        Thanks again.

  • I’m building everyone’s x-mas gifts this year and I’m taking full advantage of the powerful ponoko/SFE combo.

  • Love that there are more avenues becoming available like Ponoko etc., that are making it easier for individuals to do their own prototyping or testing of ideas. It’s starting to get easier to move an “idea” into the physical real world. Curious to see what transpires in the next few years!

  • Love your 404 page!

  • I just realized this Tinkerbell wasn’t painted! They can do 3D printing in color. Wow!


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