Selecting the Right 3D Printer
Select a 3D printing machine based on your business processes – it is important that you choose well, says Parag Nanavaty.
To understand and figure out how one can start implementing 3D printing in their businesses and processes.
Industrial 3D printing
3D Printing is one of the most sought after technologies across various sectors of the industry today. At the outset it might seem like a very confusing affair to understand and figure out how one can start implementing 3D printing in their businesses and processes. This article should give you an idea on how to choose a 3D Printer that is right for your business and its future.
There are about 7 different kinds of 3D Printers available to purchase on the market and the differences are primarily in the materials used and the processes that the machines follow in putting things together. Here, we talk about one particular technology, i.e., FFF 3D Printing.
FFF stands for fused filament fabrication. This is the most affordable and widely used technology across the globe. This technology has gained popularity in the mass media only after the early RepRap movement that happened in 2004 in New York City. This revolution gave birth to popular companies like Makerbot which was later acquired by a bigger company called Stratasys for a whopping USD 600 million in the year 2013. Ever since then, the market adoption of this technology has been on a steady rise.
When it comes to India, one of the first commercially available Desktop FFF machines was launched by a company which was founded by two engineering students from Manipal Institute of Technology while they were still in college.
What’s interesting is that none of the successful desktop 3D Printing companies is older than 6-7 years.
Does anyone remember Hitachi’s first entry into the country? Or HP’s inkjet machines entering the country in the early 1990s? We are at a similar stage when it comes to desktop FFF technology in India today.
Those companies are here today due to their far reaching reseller networks and their ability to service their machines and constantly adapt to Indian customers and requirements. One should look for similar companies in the 3D Printing space as well.
When it comes to technology and features of FFF 3D Printing, there are very few key parameters one must keep in mind when choosing to purchase their first 3D Printer:
a. Prototyping for Visual and demonstration purposes
In this case the quality of the output of the machine is the ultimate comparison. Always ask your reseller or 3D Printer manufacturer for a sample before you consider buying any particular machine. The ability of your reseller to understand your application and accordingly suggest the make of the machine is the key.
b. Prototyping for functional purposes
If you are going to use the 3D Printer parts to replace currently injection moulded parts of complex metal based assemblies, then the strength of the materials used for 3D Printing matters. One must be clearly aware of the materials that can be printed with your machine.
2. Build Volume
Once clarity on the application has been established, it is very important to estimate the sizes of the parts. Based on the maximum size of a single part the machine with the closest dimensional capability must be picked.
Think of printing a door handle for design prototyping vs printing a full assembly of a mixer grinder or an automotive side view mirror. The last thing you want to do is realise that your machine is only falling 2 cm short of the actual part dimension you need. Hence, scaling and size make a world of a difference.
How many materials do you anticipate using with your first 3D Printer? The correct answer to this would be, as many as possible. For industries trying their hand at 3D Printing for the first time in particular. It is essential that the first year is spent in attempting multiple designs and materials in 3D Printing. There are advanced composite materials like TPU (Flexible), Carbon Fibre and Carbon-Nylon available in FFF 3D Printing today. Make sure your machine is compatible with all of them or as many as them. Only a direct extrusion version machine can do this job.
4. Ease of use
3D printing an object often takes up a significant amount of time and one might lose their progress and have to restart their print all over again. With print restoration, however, the printer will continue the print as soon as the power is restored back to the printer. 3D printed filaments are always susceptible to damage if they are exposed to water for extensive periods of time. They should be stored in an air-tight container or you can find special filament containers for them.
Using a machine that has an automatic filament sensor is also an added bonus. As is using a multi substrate flexible print bed.
This is the most important aspect out of all characteristics. Falling short on anything else is still manageable but if one cannot receive proper technical support during installation and after sales support then implementing this new technology is going to be very difficult. Ensure that your resellers are authorised for after sales or that there’s a local after sales team available for your machines. Working with Indian brands would typically ensure the best support as they have local support offices and understand local customers a little better. It’s always better to purchase multiple types of nozzles as some filaments can damage certain types of nozzles due to their components.
6. Applications Engineering
3D Printing is a brand new form of technology for most of us, and hence improving the adoption of this technology inside of your organisation might be a time consuming and hassling task. Working with companies that provide 3D Printing value engineering services along with their services like fractory.in can fast forward your technology adoption process across your organisation. After all RoI can be increased only by ensuring continuous run time of the machine.
To summarise, good after sales and support networks and wide range of materials along with solid build volume will ensure you receive a great 3D Printing experience. Your first experience with this technology is going to decide the future of adoption of such technologies in your organisation and hence it is important that you choose well.
Pix1: It is important to select a 3D printer of correct size. Photo source: Mankati
Pix2: Flexible magnetic build surface for reliable 3D printing. Image source: Fractal Works
Pix3: 3D printed parts. Image source: Fractal Works
Pix4: After sales support is very important.
He is the CEO, ForeKen Technology, is always looking for new business design challenges and helps medium scale companies to bring them on the top notch in their area of operation. This article is written in association with Mr Rohit Asil and Mr Raghav Pooviah.