Why Your Company Needs an Industrial 3D Printer
Organizations across all industries, from Coca-Cola to NASA, have embraced additive manufacturing for the tangible benefits it provides. With an industrial 3D printer, your company can do the same. 3D printing has penetrated the society on both hobbyist and professional …
Organizations across all industries, from Coca-Cola to NASA, have embraced additive manufacturing for the tangible benefits it provides. With an industrial 3D printer, your company can do the same.
3D printing has penetrated the society on both hobbyist and professional manufacturing levels. What sets industrial 3D printing apart from its at-home equivalent are the scale, production power, and complexity of the associated machines.
An industrial 3D printer allows companies to expand their product catalogue, design more complex parts and products faster, reduce waste, and significantly reduce certain costs. Thanks to advancements in technology, even small workshops can today afford a production-capable 3D printer.
Let’s take a look at the benefits industrial 3D printers can bring to your firm and what the most common technologies are. We’ll also give some guidelines on how you can pick the right printer for your application.
Benefits of Industrial 3D Printing
Industrial 3D printers can give even small businesses a significant competitive advantage. We’ve written a lot about the pros and cons of additive manufacturing in our other posts. In brief, industrial 3D printing offers the following benefits:
- Reduce costs: Traditional manufacturing, like CNC machining or injection moulding, can be prohibitively expensive. With industrial 3D printers, you can manufacture high-performance parts for as low as a dozen pounds per component. Thanks to their on-demand production capability, you’ll also save in storage costs.
- Freedom of design: Traditional manufacturing methods have serious limitations when it comes to creating complex geometries. 3D printing creates objects layer by layer which allows for greater design freedom.
- Shorter time to market: An industrial 3D printer can produce prototypes and market-ready parts in a matter of hours. You’ll be able to design new parts faster, and deliver products to your clients at record speeds.
- Customizable products: You can freely and easily modify 3D model files before printing to offer customizable products for your customers. Once you’ve modified your model, you can save it to offer a similar product to others as well, easily expanding your product catalogue.
- New business opportunities: A good 3D printer can print in multiple materials, enabling you to create a massive variety of parts. You can safely and easily start serving clients that earlier were out of your reach.
Industrial 3D Printing Applications
Industrial-level 3D printers are some of the most flexible manufacturing machines available. It no wonder then that companies use them to produce everything from consumer goods to military and space exploration hardware. Here are some of the most common applications of industrial 3D printers.
- Rapid Prototyping: During the design phase, you can print prototypes directly from CAD data. Usually all it takes is a couple clicks of the mouse. You may be able to run through several product iterations in a single day, reducing both design time and costs.
- Manufacturing: Industrial 3D printers are generally fully production-ready machines. They can print durable, high-performance parts, both in metal and plastic, that can replace existing traditionally machined components. With the aid of 3D scanners, 3D printers can also reproduce out-of-production parts for legacy machines.
- Design & Architecture: Any great design needs a demonstration model, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a modern architecture agency without a 3D printer. Furniture designers and even mechanical parts manufacturer stand to benefit from the ability to quickly produce physical models.
- Medical: Many industrial 3D printers can print with sterile, medical-grade materials. Medical professionals use 3D printers to create dental moulds and orthodontics, prosthetics, and general medical equipment.
Industrial 3D Printing Technologies
More than printer brand, efficient industrial 3D printing depends on choosing the right type of printers. There are many different 3D printing technologies on the market, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.
The same part printed with two different technologies can result in wildly different print quality and mechanical properties. As such, it’s vital that you understand the differences between the types of industrial 3D printers.
|Max Volume||1005 x 1005 x 1005 mm||335 x 200 x 300 mm||165 x 165 x 300 mm||575 x 467 x 1120 mm|
|Materials||Industrial-grade thermoplastic filaments, reinforcement fibres||Standards, engineering, castable, and medical-grade resins||Nylon and nylon composite powders||Stainless and tool steel, titanium, cobalt chrome, aluminium|
|Ideal Uses||Prototyping, low-volume simple parts manufacturing||Detailed prototyping, mould manufacture, high-accuracy modelling, jewellery casting||Geometrically complex parts and mechanical parts, functional prototyping||Geometrically complex metal parts|
|Downsides||Low detail accuracy, limitations in part geometry, layered surface finishes||Parts require extensive post-processing, poorer mechanical performance, toxic and UV-sensitive materials||High entry cost, porous surfaces, limited materials||High entry cost, complex operation|
|Price Range||£1,000 upwards||£2,900 upwards||£12,599 upwards||Highly variable|
Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), also known as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), is the most common 3D printing technology today. These printers melt down thermoplastic filament and extrude it onto the print bed in layers.
FFF is the most popular 3D printing technology among hobbyists, but industrial machines — like Ultimaker S5 — have plenty to offer to professionals as well. This technology is generally the cheapest and you can get professional-grade machines like Sindoh 3D wox1 for around £1,000.
The low cost of the printers and materials makes FFF ideally suitable for rapid prototyping and proof-of-concept models. However, if you use a printer that can reinforce parts with carbon or glass fibres, such as Markforged Onyx Pro, you can print parts that are stronger than metal. There are also some enormous machines, like Bigrep Pro, that can print truly gigantic parts.
Due to laying the plastic down in layers, FFF can’t reproduce as accurate details as some other technologies. With some materials, the layers may also separate under stress. FFF require supports, which limits geometric freedom.
Stereolithography (SLA) is one of the oldest existing 3D printing technologies, but this veteran is still in common use. SLA printers use high-powered lasers to harden layers of liquid resin to achieve the desired geometry.
This technology’s claim to fame is its incredible accuracy. SLA printers, like Formlabs Form 3, produce the finest details and tightest tolerances out of any comparable machines. The variety of available resins allows manufacturer to print anything from heat-resistant mechanical parts to dental models and even castable wax moulds for jewellery.
The downside of SLA is that the materials are over rather expensive. Additionally, SLA parts require extensive post-processing, including curing and washing off the toxic resin. Some resins are also UV-sensitive and may degrade when exposed to light.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) also uses lasers, but instead of resins, it hardens material powder into solid objects. Most SLS printers, like Formlabs Fuse 1, use nylon powders as their feedstock.
Industrial SLS 3D printers are usually large-format machines, which gives them a great production output — either as single large parts or a whole chamber-full of smaller ones. SLS-printed nylon parts are generally strong and lightweight, with excellent heat, impact, and chemical resistance. Finally, SLS doesn’t require support structures, which enables incredible design freedom.
The large SLS printers, however, also often come with equally hefty price tags. Although nylon is versatile, these printers are very limited when it comes to material options. The powder-based materials also result in porous surfaces, which can absorb moisture and require sanding to achieve a smooth finish.
There are many different technologies available for 3D printing in metal. Metal FFF printers that extrude metal filaments — such as Markforged Metal X — are one option. There are also Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) machines that work like SLS printers.
Metal 3D printing is a rather niche technology, but it’s picking up speed in industrial adoption. It can produce sturdy, high-quality metal parts faster, at a lower cost, and with greater design freedom than traditional machining. Additionally, it produces less waste since there’s no need to whittle down large metal blocks into shape.
Although its entry cost is decreasing, industrial metal 3D printers can be very expensive. These machines are also challenging to operate, often requiring expert knowledge and training.
Pick the Right Industrial 3D Printer
Now that you’re aware of the benefits, applications, and types of industrial 3D printers, you may be asking which machine you should get for your workshop. The answer depends entirely on your application.
For prototyping and design models, FFF and SLA are good options, depending on the detail quality you need. As a general rule of thumb, pick FFF for cheap, simple protypes, while SLA is the way to go for detailed models.
For functional parts, SLS is one of the more common choices. With the right materials, though, both FFF and SLA can also produce strong components.
If you know you require metal parts and have money to burn, you should definitely consider purchasing an industrial metal 3D printer. Note, however, that other technologies may be able to produce equally or more durable parts out of plastics or composites — and they can do it for cheaper.