RP Marketplace, an online platform that helps you find professional suppliers of rapid prototyping services, recently teamed with some of the leading professional 3D printing suppliers to answer clients’ most common inquiries. Take a look and then add your questions.
1. What is needed to get something 3D printed?
3D printing starts with a 3D CAD model, and from that an STL file is created that the 3D printers use to print the model. The files are analyzed by the supplier and repaired if necessary, which ensures the file will be printed properly. If you don’t already have a CAD model, companies, like Broadview Product Development, can provide engineering and design services to help develop a model from something as simple as a napkin sketch.
2. What kind of finish will the 3D printed model have?
There are many different printing processes (FDM, SLS, SLA, etc.) and materials that offer a variety of surface finishes, from glossy and smooth to dull and rough. Having the machine setup and operated properly by trained professionals, as well as using commercial grade materials, helps create the best finish possible. Many professional suppliers, such as Helix Design, offer in-house finishing services, ranging from basic painting to specialty coatings and finishes.
3. How strong and durable are the materials?
The strength and durability of a part is determined by the combination of its material properties as well as the capabilities of the machine with which the part is printed. Kyle Squillace, project manager at Impressive Prototypes, explains, “strength, durability, and cost are directly correlated to the choices for printing technology. The options, from low to high, would be classified in the following order: Polyjet, FFF, SLA, FDM, and then DMLS for the technology choices.” He ranked the following materials strengths from low to high: PLA, PE-like, PP/ABS-like, PEEK, Ultem, and then metals. The specific material selection will depend on the part application, as each material has its benefits.
4. What is the difference between FDM, SLS, and SLA for commercial applications?
In comparing FDM, SLS and SLA, Louis Roberts, CEO of ProtoEdge, notes that the Stereolithography (SLA) process has “better detail accuracy and resolution than any comparable technology.” SLA creates a three dimensional part by adding layer upon layer of solidified photopolymer resins. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) sinters plastic powder one layer at a time to create tough, durable parts and patterns for functional prototypes. Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) uses an extrusion technology by depositing a thin bead of thermoplastic materials in layers and offers multiple material choices for strong and stable tooling applications.
(Note from editor: there are at least 7 different 3D printing / additive manufacturing technologies available to you to build your part. FDM, SLS, and SLA are the more common and well-known methods, but others exist.)
5. Is all 3D printing actually 3D printing?
The simple answer, no. As Charles Barton, CEO of Solid Prototype, explains “3D-printers print from liquid plastic, and have a print head that acts like a traditional printer; whereas FDM machines are not 3D-printers; they’re rapid prototyping machines.” FDM, SLS, and SLA are all forms of rapid-prototyping, and “3D printers’ are simply the newest form of rapid-prototyping.”
Editorial note: As RP Marketplace notes, that’s the simple answer. The term 3D printing is more of a generic term now than one designating a particular rapid prototyping, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing process. Increasingly, 3D printing is a reference to the small, less than $5000 cost desktop models, such as the Cube and the MakerBot. Additive manufacturing (AM) is a term now applied to any higher end (and higher cost) 3D printing system that is used to make end use objects or parts. While plastics are still a key material in this portion of the market, increasingly these systems work with metal and metal alloy materials.
All “3D printers” can be used to prototype a part. All “3D printers” can also be used to build end use or final form parts, which can range from toy trinkets to GE jet engine nozzles. What designates a part as a prototype or end use product is the intent behind the part–is the goal to test for form, fit, or function (prototyping) or to build a final part (end use production)? If seeking a final part, material choice plays a major role and may affect which of the 7 different types of 3D printing / Additive manufacturing machines you use.
These are the top questions noted by RP Marketplace. What questions do you have?