Choosing a 3D Printer
Due to the wide variety of 3D printing solutions available, it can be incredibly difficult to determine which is the perfect fit for you and your business. Scroll down to find how Solid Print3D can help you choose a 3D Printer.
Is This Your First 3D Printer?
If this is your first foray into the world of 3D Printing then ease of use is critical to you. Bed levelling, nozzle jams, setting nozzle height, poor software and failed prints cost time & money.
Purchasing a printer that minimises these issues will save you pulling your hair out when things go wrong. Many 3D printers are now extremely easy to use and setup – you can be printing within 10 minutes of unpacking the printer from the box in some cases. A good indication of quality is if they come with their own in-house software.
Most business do not have the time to waste with a hobby level printer and while a cheap DIY 3D printer seems like a “dip your toe in” option this often causes more headaches and are far more difficult to operate & use. A printer like the Ultimaker 3 offers a simple to level bed, automatic z-offset and easy to change nozzles with the Sindoh 3D Wox1 offers auto loading of filament, an easily adjustable bed, an Add-in to SolidWorks and auto z-offset adjustment.
What is the maximum size you will need to build 90% of the time?
This is a critical questions as you don’t want to buy a printer that is too large or too small. But why 90% of the time?
As an example if you do the majority of your printing in the 200 x 200 x 200mm range and very occasionally print something that is 300mm, then purchasing a printer that will cover that extra 100mm will certainly cost more money and potentially lead to a slight decrease in accuracy.
The occasional larger parts can be outsourced or with a CAD tool like SolidWorks you can split the model then glue together once the print is completed.
How critical is surface finish to you?
Within the term “3D printing” there are various different printing technologies.
Traditionally when most people think of a 3D Printer them will imagine a plastic extruder on rails. This is known as FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) and the majority of 3D printers use this technology. It has come a long way in the last 5 years adding 100’s of materials, colours & mechanical properties and the surface finish improves with every iteration. However there are other technologies such as SLA (Stereolithography) and SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) available which might be more suitable.
SLA uses a bath of resin and cures this with a laser. This gives a finish that is similar to that of an injection moulded parts and is typically superior to FDM. Resin cured parts need washing in alcohol and then post curing to achieve the desired properties of the material. Companies such as Formlabs provide automated machines for this.
SLS uses a vat of powder plastic and the powder is fused together with a laser. Typically with SLS you will nest as many parts into the VAT as possible and the powder acts as the support structure. The post processing involves brushing or using an air gun to remove the excess powder in a dedicated station, of which around 50% is recyclable. The surface finish sits between FDM & SLA as it has a chalky or powdery finish.
As you can see to gain the extra surface finish comes at a cost with the extra processing but this is becoming much easier as companies find automated solutions for it.
What mechanical properties does your part need?
Many 3D Printed parts are printed for aesthetic or ergonomic reasons but more and more people want to print either working prototypes, low volume production parts or jigs & fixtures.
Understanding how your part will be loaded, what strength your part requires and how to achieve this is critical in picking a printer.
The majority of FDM printer manufacturers worth looking at are now “opensource” meaning you can put any filament you like through the printer with the settings being provide by the filament manufacturer. This gives a huge range of variation in what you can print but you need to ensure your printer is able to print the required material.
Many budget 3D printers will only melt the plastic up to 250 Celsius whereas a durable plastic like Nylon or a hard plastic like Polycarbonate will need much higher melting temperatures closer to 300 Celsius.
The majority of 3D printers will come fitted with a brass nozzle as standard. If you want to put a chopped glass fibre or carbon fibre through the nozzle this filament is incredibly abrasive and will wear a brass nozzle out within 500g. For materials like this you need to be looking for machines that have a Stainless Steel nozzle as standard or are able to easily retrofit one.
There are now even 3D Printing machines like the Markforged Mark Two that can inlay Continuous Carbon Fibre into the print which enables customers to print Carbon Fibre parts that are stronger than Aluminium, much lighter and cheaper to manufacture.
What is your budget and how do you calculate ROI?
3D Printers are available at many different price points. Solid Print3D have chosen to only offer professional printers starting from £999 ranging to over £100,000 dependant upon application & requirement. While hobby printers (sub £500) can seem like a good entry point they can be difficult to use, prone to mishaps mid-print and Printing engineering materials like Nylon, ABS or Onyx can be impossible.
With any 3D Printer in a professional environment it will need to pay for itself as quickly as possible. Below we discuss the Return On Investment with 3D Printers & how to go about doing your own calculations.
Calculating the ROI of your 3D printed parts is simple, when split into three separate costs:
- The cost of equipment ownership
- The cost of materials used
- The cost of labour
When you have calculated these costs and are able to compare the return; you will see the difference in margin that 3D printing can help you achieve. However, each of these three costs can be explored further.
The cost of equipment ownership includes the fixed costs, servicing installation and maintenance. Over the past few years, all three of these costs have been reducing due to the progress made in the technology of 3D printers, with desktop printers being 10-100 times cheaper on average than their industrial counterparts.
The cost of materials and consumables depends on the number of parts that you require to produce. The overall cost can be calculated by finding the cost of producing one part and multiplying it by how many you wish to print. Material costs tend not to increase at an exponential rate as production increases. We can help you calculate the 3D printed part cost.
The cost of labor for 3D-printing is generally lower than most alternatives due to how optimised printers are for use; however, the process can still be very labour intensive and requires a skilled operator. Therefore, the cost of your employee would need to be considered as the cost of labour. Post-processing workflows should also be considered such as support removal and surface finishing.
About Solid Print3D
Solid Print3D is the 3D Printing Business Unit of Solid Solutions – the UK’s largest SolidWorks reseller and one of the largest SolidWorks resellers in the world. We support over 15,000 design & engineering companies offering seamless 3D CAD to 3D Print Support.
This customer base has allowed us to partner with the leading 3D Printing manufacturers offering best in class solutions to the UK & Ireland.
Solid Print3D offer honest advice, best in class products and world class support which has allowed us to become a trusted partner to so many UK & Ireland businesses.
We would love to hear from you.
Get Advice On The Right
3D Printer For Your Business
Choosing the right 3D Printer for your business?
Whether this is your first foray into 3D Printing, or if you are a 3D Printing veteran, choosing the right printer for your requirements can be a daunting task. With new acronyms appearing every week and the industry rapidly evolving it can be difficult to understand the technology, systems, materials, mechanical properties and surface finishes and which methodology is going to work best for you. Below we list some typical questions you will need to think about:
What is the Maximum size I will need to print?
Printers come in all shapes & sizes. One of the first questions you should ask yourself is, what is the largest part i will need to print” and “am i happy gluing smaller parts together?” Our printers have varying build volumes from a 200mm cube to a full 1m cube and getting this right will save you money & time.
My product needs specific mechanical properties.
The 3D Printing industry is moving at an ever-increasing pace, but the biggest strides are being made with a variety of materials now available. Will you part need to withstand a load, withstand high temperatures, work in an abrasive environment, withstand UV light, or is it just a quick prototype to test the aesthetics? From everyday PLA to Continuous Carbon Fibre or even Metal printing we can advise you on the best material & technology for your needs.
My part needs to be highly detailed.
The surface finish on 3D Printed parts is getting better with every new generation of printers & the advances being made with material science. Typically SLA (Stereolithography) produces a better, most consistent finish than FDM but this comes at a slightly higher cost with materials. FDM printers are good enough for most applications these days but for an “injection moulded” look & feel, SLA is your go-to technology.
What is the lifetime cost of a 3D Printer?
Typically a 3D printer is costed over a 3 year period. The ROI (return on Investment) can vary depending upon the application but it’s not uncommon to see a 3D Printer producing production parts pay for itself within 3 months. If you are currently outsourcing 3D Printing, want to check fit & function, or just rapidly iterate you design without lengthy lead times, 3D Printing is a tool that saves businesses time & money every day.