Monthly Archives: July 2013


Is 3D Printing Changing Plastics Fabrication?

Is 3D Printing Changing Plastics Fabrication?

The short answer is ‘yes’.

The complicated answer is yes, no, kind of, in many ways, and not at all.

3D Printing has made it affordable for inventors and Makers at home and in small businesses to design, prototype and build their design in their own garage. Entire markets have opened up in the area of 3D printable plastics, and plans and information on buying or building your mojo1own 3D printers are rampantly available on the Internet.

Of course that has an effect on commercial fabrication. How could it not? Small scale inventors who normally would come to us for prototype development can whip up their prototype in their basement while watching an A’s game.  Desktop models like Stratasys’s Mojo (Isn’t it just so cute? You just want to give it a squeeze!) cost less than a new car.  With it, you can make minute adjustments to your design almost instantaneously.  Plastics fabrication companies can’t offer that kind of turn-around and flexibility. Consider that even if we have three commercial 3D printers in our shop, at any given time all of them may be running other projects. You can bring us your design, but unless a printer is free that moment, your project goes into the cue and gets served when the machine and engineer are free to do the run.  Doing it yourself seems pretty good, doesn’t it?

So now we come to the no part of the answer. Savvy fabricators have brought 3D printing into their shops, making it easy for you to bring us your prototype plans and whip up your part for you. Why would you do that? Because while owning these machines is becoming more affordable, it’s still worlds away from costing the same as your morning Egg McMuffin.  And that’s just the machine, not the materials.

Using a 3D Printer also requires a little bit of fabricating and materials knowledge, and while many of the Maker people out there have materials engineering backgrounds, a great many idea-creators don’t. Commercial fabricators are experts, ready and able to answer questions, help  choose the right materials for your project, and review your plans to help keep your project on track.  As cute as MOJO is, he just can’t do that yet.

And what happens once your prototype is complete? Manufacturing one or two items in the backyard sounds great, but what happens when your patent is approved and you start taking orders? Large scale manufacturing takes manpower and equipment that the home Maker doesn’t usually have on hand.

The last issue is materials. Few plastics are suitable for 3D Printing, and they are expensive specialty resins. There are thousands of plastic types and each has its own specifications for molding, bonding and shaping. Most of them aren’t 3D Printer compatible. 3D Printers can’t vacuum form ABS, custom bend polycarbonate, or machine parts. For that, you need specialty equipment beyond a 3D printer.

To wrap this up before I run out of coffee, while 3D Printing is having an effect on the plastics fabrication industry, it’s not necessarily a negative one.  More people are creating at home, but that means so many more are bringing us their projects for design finalizing, material finishing, and production.  Is it possible that one day 3D Printing will put fabricators out of business? Of course it’s possible, but not until 3D Printing can take the place of expertise, skill, and high-volume equipment.

Tints for Boat Windshields

Tints for Boat Windshields


Shades of Gray Polycast

Okay, it’s time to admit it!

You don’t like squinting into the sun.  Yes, those Ray-bans look awesome on you. I know it. You know it. But you’re still blinded by the reflections off the bay across the prow of your shiny cruiser. (And I’ve heard that squinting causes wrinkles.) So maybe,  just maybe, it’s time to think about tinting up. And that old windscreen is looking a little scratched and weatherworn, right?

Fortunately, it doesn’t cost much more to get a cool tinted boat window than it does to replace the window with a clear acrylic.

Polycast acrylic sheet is the primary material we use for tinted boat windshields and windows. With a wide variety of colors available, Polycast gives us unparalleled weather-ability, impact resistance and ease of forming.  What that means for you is a long-lasting boat window with incredible clarity, gorgeous tint, and a perfect fit to your boat. What that means for your boat is that she can show up all those other boats in the marina with her cool new window. You know she likes that, just as much as she likes your Ray-bans.


Shades of Bronze

The three standard shades of Grey and Bronze, pictured above, are readily available. Red, orange, yellow and green  – pictured below -may require more lead-time on your project since these are special order colors.


Clear & Pale Green

NOTE: I took these photos with the Polycast samples lying on a  sheet of ultra-white paper. I was using a low-grade digital camera (which you can see reflected in the Green 2092- Hey, I’m a web content geek, not a photographer!). Though the darker shades appear opaque in the pictures, I assure you they are translucent. Colors that you see are going to vary depending on your monitor, my camera and the weeble-beebly magical science of transferring files over the internet.
You can call us at 510-784-1111 for more information!

Tiger Mech Costume

Tiger Mech Costume

Costume creation gives us a break from the usual hum-drum of tanks and windshields!

When  we get the chance, bringing fantasy costume dreams to reality is one of our favorite challenges. Admittedly, we sometimes have to turn down costume requests due to unrealistic time-lines, impossible-to-emulate designs, or for  safety issues. Yes, acrylic can shatter and you really don’t want to be standing in 8″ heeled boots made of it when it does.

But when the stars align, the design is right, and the time-frames work for all involved, we love to put on our designer hats and create. SO when a customer came to us for help with his Tiger Mech Suit for Fanime 2012, we embraced the challenge wholeheartedly! 3D designs were worked up using CAD and some helpful drawings from other costumers working on similar projects.

From the drawings, we handcrafted molds from wood and spray foam. Like any molding project, it took a couple of sessions to get them exactly right. Once the molds were finished, we used them as the base for the rest of the costume. Molds are expensive and time consuming, and are often the primary cost in this kind of costuming work.

With a pile of parts, the jigsaw work of assembling began. Again, there was some trial and error, but little challenges with creative pieces are all part of the fun. The helmet crest piece, in translucent green acrylic, came out stunning!  Our customer had a great time at Fanime, and is looking forward to adding the final touches to the costume.

Check out our slideshow below for details of some of our work on this costume!

Machine Head

Machine Head


On the Mayhem Tour!

Just wanted to give a shout-out to the awesomely talented guys of the metal band Machine Head.

We made some stage pieces for them a couple weeks back- a fun and interesting challenge. (Sorry we were late getting them out, guys! Thanks for your patience!)

They’re now off and rocking on the Rockstar Mayhem Festival Tour, so check them out if you get a chance. If you like it loud and wild, these are your boys for a rocking good time!

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