Well, one of the best craftsmen of 'Mechs is shutting down the main factory. http://battlemechclub.blogspot.com/. CEO Fusco has some very legitimate reasons and I can't argue with any of them. Unfortunately for the few of us still sending forces to the front lines, it makes an already small supply line, even smaller. However, he can't maintain what he has been. The market is just not supporting the load, and there's no reason for him to suffer for it. Better to retool for a different process and work on one-offs and specific commissions.
This pretty much means that the only open production line left is Thor's Mechworks. http://wingnutscockpit.blogspot.com/ He has some seriously good looking products rolling out and has a good production capability. So there will be products available for those that want them. The catch is that the machines need serious work to get to a high-level of finish. His designs are really good, and very accurate. They're light and fairly durable. They also have an extremely high level of detail and accuracy to the MWO universe machines. However, the production methodology means that we need to do some seriously intensive finishing work. The printer leaves a layer of gridlines that needs to be sanded down. The best method I've found for that is good, ol' fashioned sandpaper and elbow grease. I tried using acetone, and it has some positive results, but it does melt the surface and leaves behind some residue I don't like.
I did start hollowing out the torso for a cockpit and the way these are made does make it easier. It's a honeycomb of material once you break through the skin, and that's easily dremel'd out. It was far easier than what I had to do for the MK II Timberwolf.
That leads me somewhat to the point: 3d printing is easier for the manufacturer to develop and deliver, but the quality of product for the lower or intermediately skilled modeler presents a serious challenge. There is no casting, no molds, no huge up-front investment, and so it's a much more affordable process to go with. And if you can overlook the gridlines, it's got a lot of detail and finished work/look to it. For the more advanced modeler, the challenges can be overcome with patience and technique. However, speaking as someone in the middle of building a model of my own from scratch, I have to wonder if that time and effort isn't much different than actually building from the ground up.
The kits coming out of Mr. Fusco's pipeline are amazing, and the effort required to get a very good result was minimal at best. The techniques I need to apply to achieve the effect *I* wanted were very straight forward and focused for a specific effect. But even a novice modeler, with just a knowledge of basic pinning and painting techniques, can quickly and easily produce a very good looking result.
Basically, the two types of manufacturing address two separate needs. One puts a huge variety of models out there at a fairly affordable pricetag, more specifically for the manufacturer. The other has a very large initial expense outlay, which minimizes both the variety and quantity available. The skillsets are very disparate but both specialized, although I believe that the 3-D skills are far more prevalent and reinforced throughout our society at this point.
I'm glad Tim will still be working, and will take commissions. Sharing Techniques and tricks is a great thing and it helps the rest of us, and for that, I really appreciate his blog and effort. I am just sad that his work will be much more limited in scope and availability.