What is 3D Printing?
It goes by a few different names, for example rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing, but it's a really simple concept: to "print" material that takes up three dimensional space. Here's a great link to get the gist of the terms, history and application in a wider scope:
I'll be describing it more precisely as it applies to the operations of Magfed Maker. The beauty of 3D printing is that it brings fabrication and manufacturing to the home front, making the realization of real products a reality (that was on purpose). Magfed paintball may be growing in popularity and the bigger companies are certainly taking notice and diversifying our selection, but the hard truth is that no paintball company has the resources to offer as many options or variations as our airsoft comrades. However, the primary draw of magfed paintball is it's essence to capture the realistic function and form of real-world firearms. What our niche needs is a source for truly opening up our options when it comes to setting up our gear.
Enter Magfed Maker
As milsim and magfed paintball players, few of us are strangers to modding. Few markers truly replicate our favorite guns, but we don't just accept that. We change it. We cut it, drill it, paint it, epoxy and weld it. Those with access mill it, lathe it, and now... We print it. By leveraging additive manufacturing, we can create virtually anything our hearts desire, and with significantly less blood, sweat and tears than hand-making all the beautiful modded creations.
The product offerings here are designed in a CAD program specifically for individual paintball markers. There is no adopting parts used for other hobbies. These parts are made to function as a paintball gun, to fit as easily as a bolt on accessory and still pull off the unique and exotic looks of a wide variety of guns.
Next, the designs are sent to a 3D printer, where you the customer chooses the stuff your kit will be made of. Presently, there are 5 technical choices, but in reality only two:
I'm not going to list the actual name of this stuff, what's important to know is that ABS is one of the most common engineering plastics used today. The reasons are: it's relatively inexpensive, has very good tensile strength and is stable under a wide range of temperatures. Many 3D printed objects are made with PLA, which is easier to work with, and technically stiffer/stronger than ABS, but will warp and melt in higher temperatures, such as a hot sunny day. No bueno for us ballers anywhere south of Alaska. ABS is the better choice not only for functional strength and durability, but it is also easier to do finishing work on. Broken pieces can be chemically welded with acetone, super glue works great on it and it has a more matte finish than other printed plastics such as PLA and PETG (the other two common 3d printed plastics)
Magfed Maker currently offers four tactical colors for our ABS offerings, Tactical Black, Gun Metal Grey, Old School Olive and Metallic Desert. We're in the process of obtaining suppliers for additional color offerings in the future.
The nylon used in Magfed Maker is a unique carbon fiber reinforced engineering grade polymer formulated especially for 3D printing. There are lots of technical qualities to this stuff, but suffice to say this is very strong stuff. The carbon fiber isn't laid up like traditional methods, but rather chopped up into microscopic strands that flow throughout the entire printed piece. The result is a kit that is lighter, stronger and more matte. Very little surface finishing is needed, though this material is more expensive to work with, and results as the luxury option when it comes to your mod kits.
Once you select your preferred material/color, the job is sent to the 3D printer queue and spools of polymer filament are heated to their optimal melting points and a computer moves a very small nozzle around a glass bed, depositing the polymer in very small layers (less than a third of a millimeter) and builds your kit right then and there, just for you. Minimal material is wasted (removable support material gets recycled), nothing is sent overseas, and the entire process is controlled by our in-house fabrication office. What you receive is a specially designed mod kit ready to be installed on your marker of choice and just waiting for a little elbow grease to iron out the print "artifacts".
3D printing is a far from perfect operation. While we gain the ability to fabricate and offer small batch products without having to meet a minimum quota and pump out numerous mods with speed and intensity, there are drawbacks that will keep it from being the "future of manufacturing" as some believe:
- Each complete kit takes approximately 15-20 hours of total machine time to print
- 100 kits take 1500-2000 hours, there is no economy of scale for time, nor for price. Each kit takes a certain amount of polymer filament, which has a relatively set price.
- After printing, each part must be individually "post-processed" by hand to remove support material (extra material to aid in building a 3D model)
- As mentioned above, whether I print 1 kit or 100 kits, it will cost about the same. If I get into the range of hundreds of orders for a specific kit, know that I will be in talks with traditional manufacturers to try and meet demand.
- Consider these kits small batch, made with care and a personal touch, nothing is rushed.
- While 3D printing is getting much better with advancement in material research, the process has it's limits on providing the same structural integrity as traditional machining methods, such as milling and injection molding.
- The process results in "print lines" across the surface as the layers are built onto each other, which gives it a rough texture and sometimes slight imperfections such as bumps and nicks. These are easily fixed, and purely cosmetic.
Magfed Maker specializes in delivering unfinished kits that will still have print lines and surface imperfections intact, while offering full functionality. Some people don't mind and even like the rough printed texture, for others it offers an opportunity to spend some intimate time with your marker, putting real elbow grease to make it as gorgeous as you desire. With expansion, Magfed Maker will try and offer surface finishing, but as of now we simply don't have the time to sand down every part to perfection. We're going to have to be a team in this department.
Your kits aren't pretty, but that's the beauty of it.
You didn't think we would make it THAT easy for you, did ya? This isn't the place for bolt-on accessories. This is where you get your hands dirty, where you can enable and advance your path to marker modding mayhem. If it was easy, everyone would do it, and your kit wouldn't be as special.
Ok, that's a spin, but in honesty, we ship "unfinished" kits to our customers to decrease the time from order to delivery, and keep the costs down to make the products available to everybody, not just those with disposable incomes. All we ask of you is to put the same time and love into your mods as we do. You'll appreciate being the player with a truly unique piece, which you put (just a little) blood, sweat and tears into. We didn't want to take that completely away!