How to choose an industrial 3D printer?
What are the standards to follow when choosing a 3D printer? Which solutions are needed to be able to use it in your business for all activities, from prototyping and tooling to final production? We set out few points that may affect the success of investing in an industrial printer for spatial printing.
1. Enclosed and heated chamber with temperature control
One of the most important issues is controlling the temperature of the print environment. The temperature ensure that the thermoplastic material is in a semi-fluid state and is properly bonded to the subsequent layers so that the final printout is as durable and accurate as possible in relation to the 3D model.
This control is only available in printers with a heated and enclosed working chamber, which stops material shrinkage, the cornering effect or incorrect bonding of layers.
There are many devices available on the market with an enclosed chamber but that are not heated. If you want to produce prints at the highest level, this will not be enough.
2. Two moving heads
The main distinguishing feature of a desktop printer is the number of heads, in other words the extruders feeding the thermoplastic material onto the work surface. Single-head printers have many limitations. Supports made of the same material as the model are usually more difficult to remove mechanically and result in poorer quality of the support surface. Two extruders allow for more complicated prints and are not a constraint in the designer’s work, as the filament is fed alternately. The most commonly used support material in FFF technology is HIPS.
Printers with a movable head have even better control of thermoplastic material during printing. In the case of motionless heads, we can observe leakage of support material, which may interfere with the design of the main print. The result is a reduction in print integrity and its strength. So if you have a choice, always opt for a two-head printer, with the option of automatically lifting an inactive module.
3. Own electronics
Firmware and software are essential aspects of the quality of your 3D printer. Machine manufacturers may use open source solutions, such as ready-made software that is freely available or commercially available to developers, but they can also create custom software adapted to specific types or models of printers. The second option is definitely safer in terms of business.
Open source solutions are simpler to implement because of their easy availability and lack of – or minimal – fees. Investors interested in the 3D printer industry, however, must realise that such solutions are universal and tailored to the widest possible group of customers, meaning that they will never guarantee such precision and control of prints as dedicated electronics and technology.
For industrial applications where the personalisation of processes and customisation of prints to a design or desirable properties are important, the user wants to be sure of the best print quality. When using open source software, the user must select all the print parameters. As a result, this may adversely affect the quality of 3D prints.
4. Automation of processes
Automating the levelling and calibration process of the work platform ensures easy use of an industrial printer. 3D print devices that require this process to be performed manually are not suitable for continuous production or prototyping.
Defined print parameters for a given filament also limit the responsibilities of the 3D printer operator, optimising the cost and time of production. Only professional 3D printer providers guarantee automatic settings compatible with the selected material for printing, which are entered into the operating device program. Keep in mind that each filament has different physicochemical properties and therefore different melting temperatures, deformations, optimum printing speeds, etc. Manufacturer-defined print specifications give you an assurance that 3D printing from a given filament will perform well. Otherwise you have to define values for about 150 parameters by yourself.
For continuous prints of several dozen to several hundred hours, automatic filament flow control is also useful. When filament on a reel runs out during printing, the 3D printer pauses the process, waiting for additional material. In basic 3D printers – where this option does not exist – if the filament runs out during printing and you don’t replenish it in time, you need to start the printing process again.
5. Printing from industrial materials
An industrial 3D printer should have a wide range of professional thermoplastic materials. Industrial filaments must have proper mechanical strength and resistance to bending and crushing. Every manufacturer of 3D printers offers slightly different materials. If the material palette is too wide, it should also give cause for concern. Remember that:
precise printouts of over 200 x 200 x 200 mm from ABS are possible only in printers with an enclosed and heated chamber,
the manufacturer should provide defined print settings for each material – only then can you be confident that the material was tested by 3D printing technicians.
It is worth finding out before making an investment what the full range of options is and whether the manufacturer is continuing to look for further solutions.
ABS is the most popular material in industrial applications, and it is characterised by bending and stretching resistance, as well as general good insulation properties. Due to its properties, it can be used for prototypes, tooling, spare parts and final parts.
However, you can also find materials with additional properties that can be tested on more precise designs and that are UV resistant and anti-static. Read more about all filaments offered by OMNI3D.
Advice from the team of specialists – if you want to be sure that 3D printer will work in your company, do not hesitate to ask for an audit and trial print. The purpose of the audit is to determine if and for what areas additive technology should be implemented in the company. The trial printout will allow you to fully understand the capabilities of the 3D printing device.