Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production.
April 19, 2009 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I need something rapidly (or not) prototyped, and have (very little, or) no idea where to start.

I need a few chunks of machined aluminum (or stainless steel, jury is still out) with a very simple moving part.

I would prefer to stay as local to Portland, OR as possible, only because I prefer face-to-face interactions. I have a bit of funding, but obviously the cheaper the better right now.

Where do i need to look? What kinds of businesses do i need to search out? My attempts to Google "rapid prototyping" have resulted in a cascade of information i can't really organize or differentiate between good or bad information.

Bonus question: what do i need to come to the table with? CAD drawings? Sketches? a mock up?

Guide me hivemind!
posted by furnace.heart to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't offer much specific advice, but you are looking for a machinist. This may help with your search.
posted by Loto at 12:23 PM on April 19, 2009

Talk to a local machinist & at least bring a sketch. Machinists usually want to do large volume production, but if you can give them interesting work & get them invested in it they will usually do one-offs. Expect to pay ~$60/hr for work & for them to do a very good job. Turnaround varies depending on how much work in the queue & how 'interesting' the work is. Be respectful & grateful and I bet it will increase the odds of your work getting done faster.
posted by Dmenet at 12:38 PM on April 19, 2009

Here's a list of CNC machinists in the Portland area.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:43 PM on April 19, 2009

The Portland brach of Tech Shop is either now open or soon to open. You could join up and make it yourself.
posted by ecurtz at 12:50 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my experience, the term "rapid prototyping" generally refers to a very specific set of technologies for building up plastic-like parts using highly specialized machines. You don't want that. You just want a small machine shop. Old-school machinists will be more willing to work from simple drawings than those who only do CNC work. You will need a clear, readable dimensioned drawing -- preferably one that follows standard blueprint conventions.
posted by jon1270 at 12:55 PM on April 19, 2009

This isn't local, but this may hep you get cheap. Try You can have machinists bid on your part and order if you think you get a reasonable quote. My company uses it occasionally for short-run prototypes.
posted by olinerd at 3:04 PM on April 19, 2009

Not local, but we use Quickparts all the time at work for prototyping. They offer great phone support and can definitely do CNC work. Depending on how big/complex your part is, they may be a little beyond the budget you're looking at, in which case a local machinist might be your best bet.

As others have said, "rapid prototyping" typically refers to specific processes these days. What process you use depends critically on what your part looks like. If it is a simple flat "2D" shape, you could use waterjet on aluminum or laser-cutting on plastic - you can do both at Big Blue Saw. If the part is 3D and has to be aluminum, you will most likely need a machinist, but 3D printing from some place like QuickParts could work if you can use plastic.

If you do talk to a machinist, CAD drawings would be best, but a local machinist may be able to work with simple sketches as well. Good luck!
posted by RobotNinja at 10:49 AM on April 20, 2009

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