I've been getting some questions about what kind of machines we use at Shapeways. (Y)our models are printed by several 3D printers. One of these is a Stratasys FDM 400mc. Stratasys is one of the largest rapid prototyping machine companies and is refreshingly based in Minnesota.
The picture above of the machine was taken by me, my sincere apologies for that. The printer is about the size of a large SubZero fridge(think MTV Cribs) and uses a technique called FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling.
FDM uses a hearted extruder(if the print head of your HP desktop printer mated with a tube of toothpaste then the resulting child would be an extruder) that
builds your object up layer by layer. The melted material is deposited
by the extruder, cools, bonds and hardens.
FDM mostly uses the materials ABS and PC. Acrylonitrile
butadiene styrene is a shiny plastic that you are probably surrounded
with at this very moment. Your laptop casing, any kind of kids toys,
the dashboard of your car, the casing of your phone these are all made
with ABS. To give you an idea of its' strength and feel: LEGO is made
PC or polycarbonate is also widely used. You can find it
in such things as ski goggles, water bottles and the casing of your Ipod. At Shapeways our Cream Robust material is polycarbonate. The Cream Robust material is great if strength is important but less well suited for showing off detail. It also has a much higher heat tolerance than some other materials and is very accurate in series production.
With this Stratasys machine you can build parts of up to 35 by 25 by 25 centimetres, which is quite large for a radpid manufacturing machine. It is also quite fast. It is a great toy and we love it! Before you call the friendly folks at Stratasys to order one though I need to point out that the ballpark pricerange for this one is squarely in Ferrari territory.