Best Practices for 3D Printing
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Posted by Michael S. on August 7, 2017 in Manufacturer Focus

Some may tell you that the hype around 3D printing is fake—that this technology has been around since the 1980s and is nothing new. But I am here to tell you 3D printing is no longer just hype. 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has advanced and is here to stay.

 

In short, 3D printing works similarly to everyday inkjet printers. The key difference is that a 3D printer lays successive layers of material on top of each other to bring the desired 3D part to life. 

 

The basic technology was developed back in the late 80s. Over the last few years, additional enhancements to the technology have been developed to allow printing of almost any material, including polycarbonate, ABS plastics, steel, titanium, glass, and almost everything in between.

 

There are currently seven main 3D printing processes on the market:

            Stereo Lithography (SLA)

            Digital Light Processing (DLP)

            Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)

            Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

            Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

            Fusion Deposition Modeling (FDM)

            Electronic Beam Melting (EBM)

 

A big question you may ask yourself is if 3D printing can help your bottom line. As a manufacturer, you understand that margins are often tight. In my opinion, there is a good chance 3D printing can help a manufacturer of any size.

 

Besides having many different ways to print, machine sizes range from small desktop printers to standalone printers large enough to print a house. Some manufacturers offer nozzles that can be added to your existing CNC machines, allowing you to combine traditional metal removing with additive technology.

 

Before you venture into the additive technology process, you should reach out to your current customers to see if they have any insight on how they could benefit from you adding 3D printing to your capabilities. In addition, they might be able to help answer some of the questions below.

  • What printer would complete my current business model?
  • What are my top five applications for a printer?
  • Where else within my business can I use a printer?
  • What market opportunities could a 3D printer open up?
  • Is my competition already using this technology?
  • Do I have the expertise and skills within my company to make this work?
  • Is there a printer that can fill more than one role for me?
  • Do I want to do prototyping or high-volume 3D printing?

 

Once you identify business opportunities and spec what type of 3D printer you might want, contact multiple vendors. This is when you need to ask questions about the specifics of each of their machines. What support is offered or included? Can they help you generate a customer base?

 

Make sure the vendor understands what you are trying to do. Have them demonstrate their printer so you can see if it will do what they claim. Things to consider:

  • Table size and nozzle travel in X, Y, Z axis. Is there a 4th or 5th axis option? This determines your maximum part size as well as part configuration.
  • Machine frame and table capability. A good foundation is needed to build a solid and accurate part. It can also determine the amount of finishing work you might need to do (blending and smoothing).
  • What industries do they serve?
  • What, in their opinion, makes a company fail when venturing into 3D printing?
  • What are the operation costs of their 3D printer?
  • What is their equipment warranty?
  • What about tech and maintenance support?
  • What training will they provide?
  • Is the programming software compatible with what you currently use?
  • Will you need to make any investments in addition to the actual printer?

 

You should now be able to make an educated decision on printer size, technology, and materials.

 

Before pulling the final trigger, make sure you run your financial figures. Include not only the cost of the printer, but any training, software, shipping, and set-up costs.

 

Once you have your printer up and running, make sure you play around with it. Learn the ins and outs so you know what you can and can’t do before opening your doors for 3D printing work.

 

One last thing to consider is timing. If you plan on adding 3D printing, don’t wait, thinking there will be a better printer on the market next month. That may just put you a month behind your competition.

 

I hope you have great success venturing into additive manufacturing.

Michael S. is our Manufacturing guru
I have over 30 years experience in a broad range of manufacturing areas. Starting with an apprenticeship in Germany I’ve worked my way through a verity of positions within the manufacturing field. I got my start as a Tool and Die maker. I next became a supervisor of a class A tool room, then manager of a machining department. I was exposed to lean manufacturing in the mid 90s and adapted the lean philosophy. Loving and teaching the lean approach, I moved on to become a Continuous Improvement manager which led to a job as a manufacturing manager. I joined Acuity in 2015 as their manufacturing expert. I hope to evolve how manufacturers deal with, and think about insurance companies, as well as be a resource to my fellow employees – enabling them to better understand the unique needs of manufacturers.


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