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On-demand manufacturers give customers a wide range of 3D printing options

Ordering a part from an online service bureau can be as simple as uploading a CAD file, entering your credit card information, and waiting for delivery of your 3D-printed part.

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I spent my first dozen or so years in the workforce as a machinist in a mom-and-pop shop. The owner or his son quoted each job. People used fax machines to place sales and purchase orders. Customers were OK with delivery times of weeks—or even months. And even though our shop had a row of Bridgeport knee mills and another of Hardinge chuckers—the early ’80s version of rapid prototyping machines—ordering one piece of practically anything was inordinately expensive.

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That’s all changed. Anyone who can upload family photos to their Shutterfly account can just as easily upload a CAD file to any of several dozen web-based manufacturing sites. You simply enter your credit card information and in a […]

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