One question that we often hear is, “How do your machines make these parts?” Depending on who we’re talking to, we give the inquirer one of two answers: We either do a deep dive into the technology or we tell them that it is basically magic. In this blog post, I’ll attempt to answer that question by going somewhere in the middle.
It was about this time last year that our company owner and President, Tony Staub, got turned on to 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing. He first asked, “How does 3D Printing work?” last year in Pittsburgh’s RAPID show. He started us on a journey to learn all that we could about 3D Printing, with the ultimate goal of buying a machine and 3D printing parts. We traveled across the country and even across the Atlantic Ocean to do our research. We’ve been to Syracuse, Detroit (twice), Frankfurt (Germany), Minneapolis, and Tucson in the last year. We’ve learned and relearned a ton of information. We’ve checked facts, garnered opinions, and talked to dozens of 3D Printing experts. What I’ve learned above all, is that there is still much to learn.
3D Printing Technology
All 3D Printers use the same basic process to create parts.
- First, an operator or application engineer receives an STL file of a 3D model (more on this in next week’s blog post!). That operator checks the file for printability and may do some operations to ensure optimal results.
- Next, the operator sends the file to the printer. The 3D printer now begins to grow the part, layer by layer, from the bottom up. Depending on size and complexity, builds can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a week or more!
- Finally, once the part is finished printing there is almost always post-processing that must take place. Support structures must be removed and the part may require sanding or coating. Post-processing can range from very simple to very painstaking work, depending on geometry and fragility of the part.
Consumer / Prosumer / Professional
On the market today we’re seeing a wide variety of options for 3D Printing novices, enthusiasts, and pros.
- At the consumer level you can pick up a desktop FDM printer for a few thousand dollars. They can produce awesome parts, but the resolution and material are locked in. Also, build volume is very limited.
- “Prosumer” machines try to bridge the gap between recreational users and professionals. You’ll find FDM, SLA, and PolyJet technology in this sector. These machines can range from $5,000 to $40,000, and offer some level of customization. Most times you are able to choose either high or low resolution, and may be able to use different materials to create parts.
- Professional machines can reach prices near $500,000, but start around $75,000. Professional level machines are distinct in that they allow full customization of a build. Slice heights can be controlled, resolution can be customized, support structures can be manually created, and multiple materials are at your fingertips. Speed, accuracy, and build volume is what truly puts these machines in this category.
Staub Additive uses two high-end professional 3D Printers. After putting in the time doing our homework, we decided to use FDM and PolyJet technology. We feel like this gives us the best of both worlds. FDM technology allows us to create really robust, functional parts made from true thermoplastics. PolyJet gives us the incredibly fine detail that many of our customers are looking for, with the added bonus of full color and flexible material options.
We have a Stratasys Fortus 400mc. The build chamber is 16″ x 14″ x 16″, and we can grow parts from ABS-M30, Polycarbonate, and Ultem 9085. The Fortus uses a spool of plastic as the base material. The strand of plastic is heated and extruded through a heating block and an extrusion tip. The extrusion tip traces the contours and fills the interior of the part one layer at a time (imagine frosting a cake with a pastry bag). Once a layer is complete the base is dropped to allow the next layer to be created. Depending on the material and part requirements, each layer is deposited at a thickness of .005″, .007″, .010″, or .013″.
The Stratasys Objet 500 Connex 3 is our newest piece of equipment. In fact, it is one of the very newest 3D printers on the market. It is the only 3D printer on the market that that offers full color parts with an amazing level of detail and durability. It can print in a range of flexible and rigid materials, allowing for ultimate customization of 3D printed parts. The Connex 3 uses liquid photo-polymer resin as its base material. This material is piped to eight print heads (6 model and 2 support) where it is sprayed into the shape of the part, one layer at a time (much like your ink jet printer at home). Each time the print heads pass the part a UV light goes with it, which cures and solidifies the resin. The amazing detail achieved by the Connex 3 is a result of its ability to print an layers as thin as .0006″!
Now you know what we know (almost!). Hopefully you’ve been encouraged to do some research of your own. If you’d like to stop by for a visit or talk to one of us about the details of our machines or your needs, please contact us! Are you curious about what your part will cost? Submit your file today for a commitment-free quote.
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