One bugaboo that can bother 3D printer operators is the price of materials.
The price of the equipment is one thing, but in some cases the price of the materials is quite another. While you pay for the equipment only once, you must pay for materials endlessly as you use the machine.
Vendors of equipment sometimes insist on using only their own materials for a couple of reasons. The most publicly stated reason, and it’s certainly a truth, is that the machine will be exquisitely tuned to the chemistry of the vendor’s materials. This should result in the best possible prints, and it’s often the case this happens.
However, this places the vendor is a kind of a monopoly situation, where the buyer really has only one choice for materials. That leads to the second reason for proprietary materials: cash. As a pseudo-monopoly, the vendor is able to charge higher rates for the material, which is of course good for the vendor. Less good for the printer operator, however.
Meanwhile generic materials are often available at lower costs, sometimes substantially, depending on the situation. However, they usually cannot be used in machines requiring proprietary materials due to security mechanisms.
But this financial gap does motivate some materials suppliers to overcome that barrier. There are a few select companies that produce compatible materials for proprietary equipment. One of them is Switzerland-based iSQUARED, who have been in operation since 2009.
The company has targeted Stratasys and provides what appears to be a complete selection of alternative materials for that company’s entire line of FDM-based equipment. iSQUARED’s filament canisters can directly be used in Stratasys’ Dimension, uPrint, Fortus series, and even in the brand new F123 models. Colors provided include natural, black, grey, white, blue, orange, red and glow in the dark! They are also open to creating custom colors if desired. They only provide a single ABS-like material, as well as a compatible support material.
They also provide a support resins for use in Stratasys’ Objet line of high resolution equipment, although it appears they do not provide model materials at this time.
ISQUARED has a satisfaction guarantee that seems to allow for replacement of any of their materials that’s not up to standards. However, they do not seem to offer any guarantee or statement on whether the Stratasys warranty or maintenance programs would be compromised if their material is used. It’s possible Stratasys would insist on re-certifying a machine if it were exposed to “foreign” materials.
That said, there are many Stratays machines currently in operation that are not under Stratasys warranty or service contracts, and these machines are no doubt the target market for iSQUARED. It makes sense; if an operator wishes to save cash by discontinuing service, they may also be interested in saving money on materials, too.
How much can you save? iSQUARED representatives tell us their resellers charge typically 30-50% less than standard Stratasys materials fees. This could be very significant over long periods of time in a busy 3D printing workshop, indeed.
This looks like a good option for some, but not all Stratasys equipment operators.