Frequently Asked Questions
What does Firstcut do?
Firstcut CNC machines very low quantities of plastic parts very quickly. Typical quantities are 1–10 pieces and typical lead times are 1–3 business days.
We have developed proprietary technology that combines many of the advantages of rapid prototyping with CNC machining. The result is a fast, convenient and easy to use process for getting quotes, ordering and receiving CNC machined plastic parts.
What is unique about the Firstcut process?
First, the quoting process is unprecedented in the machining industry. Our proprietary quoting software engine, running on large scale computing resources, generates the CNC toolpaths required to machine your part. Once this is done, the software calculates the price to produce your design in various materials and then generates an “as milled view” of your part. A FirstQuote® interactive quote is provided that allows you to evaluate the choice of different resins and different quantities, as well as see in 3D how your machined part will compare to your original model with any differences highlighted.
Second, our process allows you to get plastic parts CNC machined from REAL blocks of solid plastic in the same timeframe that you can get SLA, SLS or FDM parts. Parts from Firstcut will have the true properties of the resin you select - not the “resin like” properties that rapid prototyping offers. Your parts will have machined surfaces free of the “stair-stepping” inherent in rapid prototyping.
What is the typical cost?
The best way to find out is to submit a 3D CAD model and get a FirstQuote interactive quote. Because Firstcut uses proprietary software and automated fixturing processes, there are no up front non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs. This makes purchasing parts in quantities as low as 1-10 cost effective. Prices compared with traditional rapid prototypes (SLA, SLS and FDM) are comparable to somewhat higher, but with the real material properties and improved surface finishes that you get at Firstcut you receive a higher VALUE.
Why would I want to use Firstcut?
Before you have injection mould tooling made or commit to high volume machining processes, you probably want to test a part that is as close to the production part as possible.
At some point in your career, you have probably purchased an SLA, SLS or FDM part to do this and have been disappointed by the fact that it was fragile or by its rough surface finish. With a CNC machined part from Firstcut, you get the real material properties (strength, impact resistance, electrical properties, flame retardancy etc) of the base resin you really need, as well as a machined surface finish — none of the stair stepping that is inherent with the rapid prototyping technologies.
Custom projects requiring very low quantities
Engineers often need just one or maybe a few parts for test fixtures, assembly jigs or assembly fixtures. Traditional machine shops often charge a significant non-recurring engineering (NRE) charge for programming and fixturing. This NRE charge often makes getting very small quantities unaffordable. The automated Firstcut process eliminates the upfront NRE costs and makes quantities as low as one affordable.
In-house machining capabilities overloaded?
Many companies have in-house machining capabilities that do a great job of meeting the company’s internal needs, except when a major new product is being introduced. In this circumstance there is typically a lot of new parts, a lot of changes and never enough hours in the day. Firstcut can help you in these overload situations.
What materials are available?
Firstcut stocks a variety of plastic resins (including glass filled) as well as aluminium that are available in the sheet stock we use in our process. While Firstcut’s material choices are much broader than those available with rapid prototyping, they are nevertheless more limited than in injection moulding. Most materials are available in only one or two grades and in one or two colours — typically Black and Natural or White. Some materials are only available in certain thicknesses. Your FirstQuote interactive quote will allow you to evaluate the cost of different material choices.
You can view the materials available within your FirstQuote interactive quote or visit our Material Selection page.
At this time, we do not work with customer-supplied material.
Are there any limitations?
We are currently limited to a maximum part size of approximately 250mm x 175mm x 90mm and our process is based on 3-axis milling from six perpendicular sides.
For additional information please see our Design Guidelines.
How do I get a quote?
We need a 3D CAD solid model to prepare a FirstQuote interactive quote. All of the Firstcut processes are dependent on good 3D CAD solid models. Two-dimensional (2D) drawings are not adequate for quoting or making parts.
We can accept native SolidWorks (.sldprt) or ProE (.prt) files as well as solid 3D CAD models from other CAD systems output in IGES (.igs), STEP (.stp), ACIS (.sat) or Parasolid (.x_t or .x_b) format. We can also accept .stl files.
Upload your file and we’ll send you a FirstQuote interactive quote.
I don’t have a 3D CAD model. Can Firstcut create one for me?
Sorry, we don’t offer any design services, but we can provide contact information for companies that do. Please contact us via email and we’ll link you up with a designer that is familiar with our process.
Where and when did the idea for Firstcut originate?
What is the relationship between Firstcut and Protomold?
Both are services of Proto Labs, Ltd.
What do the two divisions have in common?
They share core technologies but apply them differently. They also share some staff and facilities.
What service does each division offer?
- Firstcut makes CNC machined plastic parts directly from 3D CAD models in as little as one day.
- Protomold makes injection moulded prototypes and short run production parts, also from 3D CAD models, in as little as one day.
What are the advantages of working with Firstcut and Protomold?
Both provide parts made directly from the customer’s 3D CAD model, reducing the likelihood of errors. Proprietary software automates tool-path generation to decrease lead times and reduce costs.
How do I choose between Firstcut and Protomold?
Since both systems offer very rapid turnaround, the primary deciding factors will be the quantity of parts needed and the complexity of your design.
What are the capabilities of the Firstcut process?
- Parts can be made from most thermoplastics that are available in sheet stock.
- The process is generally most cost effective for producing between one to ten parts.
What are the capabilities of the Protomold process?
- It supports up to four side actions per mould.
- Parts can be moulded using most injectable thermoplastics.
- The cost-effectiveness of the process typically begins where Firstcut’s CNC machining leaves off, at 10 or more parts. In production applications, it has been used for runs of tens of thousands of parts.
How do the two processes compare to additive “rapid prototyping” processes like fused deposition modeling, selective laser sintering, or stereolithography?
Protomold’s rapid injection moulding and Firstcut’s CNC machining both offer a much wider selection of resins than the additive processes do. They also produce parts that are significantly stronger and have smoother finishes than can be made using additive processes.
What is the quoting process for each of the two divisions?
- Firstcut provides interactive, web-based quotes through the FirstQuote® online quoting engine at www.firstcut.eu.
- Protomold provides interactive, web-based quotes through the ProtoQuote® online quoting engine at www.protomold.co.uk.
- Both systems accept direct upload of customers’ 3D CAD models in native IGES, STEP, SolidWorks, ProE, Parasolid, and ACIS formats.
- Both return a detailed quote, typically in one business day or less. If there are problem areas in the submitted design, both quoting engines provide detailed information on the problems and suggested solutions.
Can I get quotes from both Protomold and Firstcut for the same part?
Yes. You can either submit the same 3D CAD model to both divisions, or you can talk to a sales representative, who will help with the submission.