What’s the difference between an industrial 3D printer and a desktop printer?
Every year, new models of 3D printers or modifications of pre-existing models appear in the 3D printing sector, which is closely related to the continuous development of this technology – both in Poland and throughout the world. One of the challenges facing companies wishing to implement 3D printing technology in their business is the whole spectrum of possibilities. Which printer works best for professional applications?
1. The correct nomenclature
An important issue is to separate clearly 3D printers for industrial applications from desktop printers. The latter are small devices with less precision, for domestic use or for the production of simple models with less durable materials.
2. Types of applications
Industrial printers are designed for the 3D printing of advanced, fully functional prototypes. They are perfect for the production of tools and instrumentation implemented in the form of individual models, but also in the form of short batches. Industrial 3D printing enables the creation of final elements that have comparable physical properties to final elements created in traditional ways – and often exceed them.
Desktop printers allow you to print small objects (about 200 x 200 x 200 mm) for home use from simple models without complicated geometries. These can be used for conceptual models in architecture or design, rapid prototyping and the creation of individual elements that do not require high precision and specific physical features.
Why do we see such a big difference in their uses? It is due to the specific construction parameters of these devices.
3. Size of the working field
Industrial 3D printers have a very large field that allows the printing of larger elements or batch printing of smaller ones in one process.
What does this mean for a business? If you want to print large items, an industrial printer allows you to make the whole model. In the case of smaller devices, the user has to struggle with problems such as gluing individual elements of the model or creating special connectors on screws or snaps. In addition, the larger print area also allows low-volume production orders. Several or a dozen elements can be arranged on the table, thus shortening the project implementation time.
4. Enclosed and heated chamber
Industrial printers with enclosed and heated chambers can print using more demanding materials. This type of chamber means a higher and stable 3D printing temperature. An industrial 3D printer should maintain a sufficiently high temperature in the chamber while ensuring stable operation of temperature-sensitive electronic components. The natural result is the availability of a wider range of materials, with industrial ABS at the forefront.
5. Number of heads
The number of heads determines whether a 3D printer will be able to produce more complex models using support material. One head allows models to printed from a single material. In the case of objects that need to use supports (3D printing “in the air” is not possible), the prints are made entirely of the same material. It is not easy to break supports made from PLA away from a model made of the same material. It can also cause damage to the model and leave traces that are difficult to remove.
If we want to print more complex models, a two-head device will be a much better choice. Models on such a printer are made using two different materials. When supports are printed using a material different to that used for the main model (the most often chosen material for this purpose is HIPS-20 due to its brittleness), there is no problem with detachment or chipping. This feature significantly simplifies the work and allows you to print models with more complex geometries.
6. Automation of processes
A desktop printer can be reliable, but its very limited design does not provide such functionalities as automatic table calibration or filament flow sensors. And although for small and simple prints these are not mandatory options, when a print is more complex the user will notice the positive aspects of these additional options. In the case of simple desktop 3D printers you have to remember by yourself many elements, and the printing time of individual projects will be significantly extended.
7. Settings of print parameters
Click and print – although it seems simple, there are about 150 features on the list of settings necessary for a correct print. Among them: head temperature, filament flow rate, 3D printing speed, distance between the main print and the support, printing table and chamber temperature, acceleration and many more. Each setting must match the material or materials used for printing, as well as the specifics of the print.
Manufacturers of industrial printers offer ready-made settings containing specific printing parameters for each compatible filaments. It determines them based on numerous and time-consuming tests. It selects those that allow prints to be made in the best possible quality, while maintaining the highest possible parameters of mapping the 3D model in reality.
What about low-budget 3D printing solutions? The manufacturer treats the user as a person who has more time to complete the entire printing process. It is up to the user to match individual print parameters to the selected material, which requires a good knowledge of incremental production technology. Numerous tests are also needed before the main print in order to match the options as optimally as possible.
8. Available materials
The list of materials from which spatial prints can be made is of great importance. Filaments have different properties that can be matched to what you want to achieve. The simpler the printer, the less it will be adapted to industrial materials. Printers created for industry are designed in a way to be able to print from materials that are already used in production plants, such as ABS, PC-ABS, PET-G, HIPS and PA. The manufacturer should present a list of compatible materials, along with their specification and print parameters. If it has such information, it means that these materials have been tested on the printer. It is not necessary to check how they work with the device because a 3D printing technologist has done it for us.
The audit, which analyses the current situation of the company together with 3D printers and determines the savings associated with the implementation of 3D printing, is of great logistic importance. Specialists suggest the best solutions and advise on how to get started with a 3D printer.
Pre-training with 3D printer support is also important. Training in using spatial printers is a chance to get to know the printer well and its capabilities and to receive answers to questions. There are no such pre-use services for desktop printers, you have to face all the problems by yourself.
10. After-sales service and technological support
Manufacturers of industrial 3D printers offer service and support of 3D printing technology. A specialist suggests how to set the printout, which material to choose, supports the 3D printer operator and ensures that the printer works well during daily work. This is more than what is offered with desktop 3D printers, where the user has to test everything alone.
The industrial 3D printer must provide industrial ease of printing. This means an automated and intuitive process, where the role of the operator is limited. Regardless of the type of elements created, dimensional precision and high repeatability of prints are achievable even during intensive use. Industrial printers have features designed for this type of applications.
When choosing a 3D printer, pay attention to these features so that you can work optimally and without problems. 3D printing technology has many great possibilities.