Jun 4, 2104 -- You’ve heard about 3D printing all over the news and seen it on technology forums. 3D printers continue to shock and amaze with all they can do. From the printing of small prototypes all the way to 3D printed human organs, 3D printing technology is making rapid advancements. So what about 3D printers for business needs? There are many articles out there about the many business advantages of 3D printers, and at the same time, there are a number of misconceptions about the use of the technology for business. Well, stay tuned, because today we’re going to bust some the of common misconceptions out there.
Myth #1: “Buying a 3D printer is expensive and not worth the money.”
Fact: The price of 3D printers has gone down considerably over the past several years and the price tag is
definitely within reach for small and medium-sized businesses. Many companies are quickly finding 3D printers to be an excellent investment since they make it much simpler to create mockups and prototypes. In fact, the return on investment for a 3D printer is excellent, and most business find that the 3D printer pays for itself in two to three years.
BlueSky Designs is a small R&D shop in Minneapolis that creates products to help people with disabilities. BlueSky purchased a Stratasys 3D Printer to more easily and cost effectively develop and test concepts. Founder and President of BlueSky, Diane Goodwin, described the challenges associated with outsourcing their prototype service. "Before purchasing the Dimension printer, we were working with an outside service bureau to prototype. Because of the high expense, we could only afford to develop a few prototypes at a time," says Goodwin. The first project BlueSky tackled with their 3D printer was the Mount’n Mover, a mounting system that allows individuals in wheelchairs to easily position devices, trays and laptops. After having spent $23,000 on outsourcing production of three metal prototypes, Goodwin learned she could print eight ABS prototypes in-house using the Dimension 3D Printer for just $3,000, while slashing production time by three weeks.
To learn more about BlueSky’s success, visit this link: http://www.stratasys.com/resources/case-studies/commercial-products/bluesky.
Myth #2: “Buying a 3D printer will require extensive employee training.”
Fact: Another common misconception is that getting started with a 3D printer will entail a significant amount of set-up time and extensive employee training. In reality, most printers follow the same File, Open, Print command as a standard ink-jet printer and are very user-friendly. When describing his experience in using a 3D printer for the first time, Chris Koenig, Mechanical Designer at Lamplight Farms, said, “It was actually very simple. I installed the software myself on my machine and within two hours I was proficient with the software. It’s really easy. It’s just a matter of bringing the file over into the Stratasys program and printing it.”
Learn more about Lamplight Farm’s success with 3D printing. Watch their customer success story on our website.
Myth #3: “Resolution attributes, such as layer thickness or dots per inch, translate directly to accuracy.”
Fact: According to the Stratasys whitepaper, The Accuracy Myth, a widely held misconception exists around accuracy versus resolution as they relate to additive manufacturing. Resolution does not, in fact, translate directly to a system’s overall accuracy. Stratasys illustrates an example of the distinction between these two concepts:
Imagine that two measuring sticks of differing length are both marked as 12 inches long, yet the second stick is actually 1 inch shorter. The first stick is divided into 1/16-inch increments, and its true length is verified at precisely 12 inches. Even though the shorter stick reads “12 inches,” it is verified to be only 11 inches long. But this shorter measuring stick is divided into 1/32-inch increments, which is twice the resolution of the 12-inch measuring stick. The 12-inch ruler with 1/16 inch increments exhibits lower resolution but high ultimate accuracy. The 11-inch ruler with the finer increments does the opposite: It exhibits high resolution but low absolute accuracy.
The same goes for additive manufacturing systems. Some make parts like the first ruler – with finely resolved features but lower overall dimensional accuracy. Others turn out parts with lower, but acceptable, resolution and excellent accuracy. The confusion between accuracy and resolution is understandable given the incremental way that additive manufacturing systems create parts from CAD models. Some systems build parts from fused layers of a thermoplastic material. Some build parts from layers of a photopolymer that have been cured by a light source. Others bind or sinter layers of powdered materials, ranging from starches to metals.
For more information on resolution versus accuracy, read Stratasys’ whitepaper, The Accuracy Myth.
Myth #4: “3D printers can only print a few different types of materials.”
Fact: Currently, there are hundreds of material and color options and five different types of 3D printed technologies: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Technology, Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), PolyJet Photopolymer and Syringe Extrusion.
FDM Technology: This 3D printing technology build parts layer by layer by heating thermoplastic material to a semi-liquid state and extruding it according to computer-controlled paths (think of it like a hot glue gun).
Stereolithography: A SLA 3D printer works by concentrating a beam of ultraviolet light focused onto the surface of a vat filled with liquid photocurable resin. The UV laser beam draws out the 3D model one thin layer at a time, hardening that “slice” of the eventual 3D model as the light hits the resin. Slice after slice is created, with each one bonded to the other creating an extremely high-resolution three dimensional model lifted out of the vat.
Selective Laser Sintering: This technology takes powdered materials such as ceramics, glass, nylon, and metals including steel titanium, aluminum and silver. A laser beam hits the power, and then the powered is fused, or sintered, at that point.
PolyJet Photopolymer Technology: This method functions similarly to an inkjet desktop printer by using a UV light to set layers of liquid photopolymer to build the part. PolyJet Technology offers many different types of materials and colors.
Syringe Extrusion: Almost any material that has a creamy viscosity can be used in 3D printers equipped with syringe extruders. This includes materials like clay, cement, silicone, and Play-Doh.
By offering many different materials and color combinations, 3D printing technologies exist to give your part will the best properties for your application. You can look at a list of materials and their properties on our website (link to PDF). Additionally, you may read more on the different types of 3D printing methods at 3dprinter.net.
Myth #5: “3D printers don’t have longevity.”
Fact: A common thought is that 3D printers don’t have longevity, when in truth, the shelf life of a 3D printer is relatively long. There are many 3D printing machines still on the market that are up to ten years old. Keeping your 3D printer on Stratasys Support Program will keep the printer current, reliable, and up-to-date with the latest technology.
For example, the Standard Support Program from Stratasys includes:
» Phone support for application and technical queries
» Remote support
» Onsite support
» Spare parts
» Obligation to on-site response time
» All hardware and software updates included
» Proactive preventative maintenance
» PolyJet print heads
» Discounted training sessions for operators
» Optional professional services
Wolfgang Hemschik, 3D Printing Business Manager at Graphics Systems says, “Just as with almost every technology out there, there’s always going to be a new version that comes out. However, by keeping your 3D printer on the Support Program, you’re doing what you need to keep your printer up-to-date and running smoothly. Just as with other technology, there’s no need to fall into the trap of breaking the bank to buy the latest model if you’re maintaining your current machine.”
So, as long as you’re keeping your 3D printer up to date and on support, you’ll have a reliable machine that will last you years.