How to Make a 3-D Printer Purchase Worth It for My Business
A 3-D printer is capable of building some amazing things, from a 3-D-printed acoustic guitar to a handmade camera lens and medical models. Despite its incredible technology, a 3-D printer is a considerable investment that needs analysis as a business purchase. After the purchase, businesses should regard aspects like choice of materials, safety precautions and 3-D modeling education for optimal results.
Businesses that want to get the best use for their buck out of a 3-D printer, helping impact their production process for the better, should heed the six tips below.
Decide on Your Printing Material of Choice
Like a normal printer, a 3-D printer needs a perpetual replenishing of supplies. Two materials needed for 3-D printing are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and poly lactic acid (PLA), thermoplastics that are frozen when cooled and malleable when heated. Sold in 1-kilogram filament spools for around $30, it's worth finding out the most suitable material for your product before choosing the right type of printer.
If you don't have a material preference or intend to use both, make sure to buy a printer that uses both. Some printers only use one.
ABS has considerable flexibility and a high melting point, making for an ease-of-use while creating and a lesser likelihood to deform under high heat. However, the cooling time is long and can make the material prone to warping, while also emitting fumes while printing.
PLA, derived from corn starch, is environmentally friendly and biodegradable. PLA offers a quick cooling time, though its low melting point can cause some models to deform. Also, its lack of considerable flexibility makes working with joints and interlocking parts difficult.
Weigh these pros and cons of both materials to help decide the best printer for you, or choose a printer that can use both. 3-D printing is additive, so manufacturers only have to use the minimum amount of material to replicate a product, another reason why 3-D printing is attractive for business.
Choose the Right Type of Printer
There are various types of 3-D printers available for purchase. The most common 3-D printers utilize fused deposition modeling (FDM), which creates a model by heating and extruding plastic layer by layer. This printer is the type that most businesses consider, though some specialty businesses can look into two alternatives in stereolithography and selective laser sintering (SLS) for increased quality and durability.
Stereolithography utilizes an ultraviolet light beam that hardens a model from a photosensitive liquid pool, resulting in a very high-quality printout. SLS is similar, though it uses powders and lasers instead of liquid and UV light beams.
Building your 3-D printer can be cheaper than buying one, though self-assembly requires considerable expertise and, considering the cost of stereolithography and SLS, makes fused deposition modeling (FDM) the present most ideal option.
Practice Safety When in Use
Businesses should be prudent regarding 3-D printing safety, primarily to avoid medical trauma and costs. Heated plastics can get very hot, so take precautions to avoid bad burns and do not touch areas of the printer when in use. Additionally, ABS emits fumes while in production, so a gas mask is vital if you're using that material.
You should be very careful if you're using 3-D printing to make materials that food will touch, like a cup or plate. Both PLA and ABS are food safe, though the addition of additives in some processes can cause bacteria to collect. In general, avoid using a 3-D printer to make kitchenware.
Regard Print Resolution and Speed
When using a 3-D printer, you may have to decide between quantity and quality. The printer type and level of detail can influence printing speeds. As a result, do not purchase a 3-D printer unless there are examples of print models available. Photos should be available online of a 3-D printer's quality, as well as information regarding its print speed.
Learn to Create Your 3-D Model
Outsourcing model design for each 3-D print can end up being very costly. As a result, businesses can get the most for their buck by learning 3-D modeling on their own, especially with a variety of free -software available. Although learning to model in a computer has a steep learning curve, it's a useful skill that can save you and your business thousands of dollars down the line.
Your 3-D model will be in the form of a STL file (stereolithography), which can be generated using most CAD programs or 3-D modeling software. You can use this STL file in slicing software, which can work with your printer's recommended software, such as MakerBot's MakerWare, to print the model in an ideal way.
Get Involved in the 3-D Printing Community
The groundbreaking, evolving technology of 3-D printing inspires a passionate community of 3-D printing enthusiasts, whose expertise can help enlighten your business on its best practices. Plus, acquainting your business's 3-D printing roles with this community can provide your business with positive free exposure. This community is also helpful when you are deciding on your printer and printing material.
3-D printers offer businesses untapped potential with the ability to create effective products with quality and precision. As long as businesses are mindful of the six tips above, they can get the best bang for their buck when purchasing and using a 3-D printer.