By now, 3D printing’s cost and time-savings benefits are well-established. But there are some lesser-known efficiencies that do not grab all the headlines. While not secret, these efficiencies aren’t typically top of mind, so they might not be considered until later in the design process.
That’s a missed opportunity.
To fully reap the rewards 3D printing offers, users should keep these 7 efficiencies in mind before beginning their next project.
One of the first aspects to consider is a part’s material because it dramatically impacts cost and lead time, not to mention which technology to use.
In terms of cost, material pricing varies due to their physical, mechanical or chemical properties. For example, with smaller parts, a simple photopolymer is cost effective. But projects that have strength requirements will demand an alternative material, like a thermoplastic, that impacts cost in its own distinct way.
Remember: not all technologies are uniform in layer thickness, and not all materials are compatible with each technology. Users must critically analyze what their application’s needs are to help determine which a material is best for their project. Doing so from the start may help prevent redesigns, delays and budget overruns.
3D printing technology plays a big role in determining the cost and build speed of parts. Some build more quickly, some demand post-processing and still others require post-build cooling periods. All of these factors must be taken into consideration when picking a technology.
Laser Sintering (LS) and PolyJet illustrate the different variables perfectly. LS, a powder-based technology, needs time after the part is built to cool, and then it must be removed from the powder and finished for any cosmetic or tolerance specifications. It also has a longer build time than most technologies. PolyJet, on the other hand, builds fairly quickly and only demands minimal finishing.
Determining which technology is best based on a project’s parameters will help optimize build times without cutting corners on part requirements.
A part’s ideal layer height depends on what its intended use is. If it is more cosmetic, then thinner layers might be best so 3D printing’s inherent ridges can be avoided. The tradeoff here is that thinner layers means a longer build time and higher costs, because more layers of material must be deposited. For parts that do not require topline aesthetics layer height is less of a factor.
Part orientation and supports
The amount of supports a part needs is intimately tied to its orientation. To lower costs, parts should be orientated in ways that reduce the amount of necessary supports, thus requiring less material. A way to do that from the start is by designing a part with angles, typically 45 degrees or more, that help the part support itself. Not only does this design technique use less material but it also decreases build time.
Choosing the right wall thickness requires a balanced approach. Parts with thinner walls require less build time, but they also come with risks. Walls that are too thin could result in flimsy features, warping or unwanted fragility.
After defining a part’s intended function, users should review the relevant technologies and materials to determine which would best enable their part’s desired wall thickness. Each have their own wall thickness guidelines and restrictions that help users determine a path forward.
For those who want to do a more thorough review, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s design guidelines offer an in-depth look at the balancing act that is wall thickness.
3D printing’s design freedom is one of its greatest benefits. It allows for intricate parts to be built in ways that traditional manufacturing can’t match.
Take the ID-Light process, or sparse-fill option, that is offered by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing for Stereolithography (SL) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). This custom build style offers a faster build because ID-Light prints lattice-like structures inside the part. That also means less material is used, reducing costs.ID-Light also builds parts much faster than solid, dense parts, cutting back lead times.
The proprietary build process is ideal for presentation and concept models, entertainment pieces, art and architectural models. ID-Light FDM is often utilized for thermoforming (vacuum forming) molds.
Typically, post-processing and finishing are for parts that demand pristine cosmetics finishes. If a part must have a smooth surface or look a certain way, both time and expense will likely rise as a result. That’s why it’s important to analyze a project’s needs beforehand, to determine if finishing’s benefits are worth its cost. Consider that only some sections of a part might require extra polishing and finishing for it to still perform its intended function.
Users should keep these seven considerations in mind when they begin the design process. Not only will they have a more thorough understanding of their project, but they will also be better able to reap 3D printing’s benefits.
Stratasys Direct Manufacturing