With the influx of 3D printing into mainstream culture and media, there has been a clear progression of science and technology fueled projects and endeavors both in and out of the professional world, which has been documented by the Wohler 2016 report showing tremendous growth in the 3D printing market in the past couple of years.
Now, while this is fantastic news for the future of the 3D printing industry as a whole, there have been some drawbacks with our work being pushed into the scientific limelight.
For starters, as you can see on the bottom of the graph shown above, this tectonic shift in market size has been heavily weighted on the consumer level desktop 3D printers like Makerbot, as opposed to the more professional, manufacturer and designer-focused printers made by Stratasys. Essentially, this means that for many people, all 3D printing is to them is a machine that makes cheap, brittle toys and knickknacks with high-maintenance level machines. Unfortunately, this viewpoint seems to be popular with the uninformed, and is detrimental to the progression of professional systems due to the stigma that is associated with the technology.
This is the exact reason why I am writing to you all now. Stratasys is not only the biggest 3D printer company on the planet, but also one of the founding fathers of the technology. We here at CADimensions, a Stratasys Value-Added-Reseller, are privy to the type of high-end 3D printing knowledge and experience that most others do not possess. This knowledge we possess makes us a powerful resource for any and all businesses interested in integrated Additive Manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing) into their processes. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and it is because of this knowledge we feel obligated to clear up some of the confusion with professional 3D printing. We would like to address three of the main concerns and objections that business owners have due to the misconception of the true value of 3D printing.
1. “I need the durability and strength of aluminum and other metals for my jigs and fixtures”
While the need for strength and durability is non-negotiable, the need for the material to be metal is. A lot of the time, many companies still produce manufacturing aids in metal simply because that is how it has always been done. However, with the advancement of plastics, this rule of thumb no longer makes fiscal sense. Stratasys has several materials that boast tensile strength with PSI (pounds per square inch) resistance in the range of several thousands, most notably with ULTEM 1010, the strongest and most impressive material in the FDM catalogue:
With a PSI resistance anywhere from 10-20,000 (depending on how you build your part), it is materials like ULTEM 1010 that allow manufacturers to get the same strength to weight ratio as some metals. In addition to this, ULTEM has several high level certifications and resistances, which allows for a broad spectrum of different applications.
2. “We require extremely accurate tools that can only be achieved from CNC”
This is another example of miscommunications of the technology of 3D printing. Both Stratasys technologies, FDM and PolyJet, have remarkable accuracy. FDM can print as accurate as .005”, whereas PolyJet can print down to 16μ, even 14μ on the newest multi-color, multi-material system, the J750. If you are looking for specific textures and finishes, there are a plethora of professional 3D printing finishing techniques that you can incorporate into your parts, so you get the finish you want while still reaping the cost benefits of 3D printing.
3. “All of my manufacturing aid needs are met with my in-house CNC”
The answer to this issue can be reiterated again with the maintained strength to weight ratio of plastic parts vs metal, and the cost-benefit of 3D printing overall. In addition to this, there is an important statement to be made about the economics and geometrical complexities of 3D printing. It is an additive manufacturing method, meaning that you are only using the exact amount of material you need, with little wasted as opposed to subtractive methods like CNC. Furthermore, 3D printing, with its additive process and specialized support systems, can achieve much more complex features and geometries than subtractive. This ability allows you to not only consolidate components into one-shot full assembly builds, but can also improve tool functionality, and focuses more on printing for functionality, rather than working around the more traditional methods of manufacturing.