There is an increasing demand for production 3D printers to create durable end-use parts. In the past, when we would think about 3D printing, we would think of it as a supplemental technology for basic prototyping to help make fun prototype models for marketing, trade shows, or rough design iterations.
If we look back through the adoption of additive manufacturing, it is clear that this notion was largely caused by the inability for 3D printing and additive manufacturing to build parts at production level volume and with high quality engineering materials. Recent advancements within additive manufacturing and 3D printing have helped change this notion and have presented the new ability to use the technology for the production of end use parts.
In this blog post we will try to better understand the application of additive manufacturing for production, take a look at some production 3D printers on the market, and will highlight some reasons why additive manufacturing is projected to replace traditional manufacturing methods.
Manufacturing and Assembly Aids
Manufacturing and tooling aids have been around for a while. Companies have been trying to find ways to reduce the time and waste associated with manufacturing since Henry Ford’s assembly line.
Unfortunately, traditional methods of making manufacturing aids are still very labor-intensive and time-consuming, especially when multiple design iterations are required. These methods also usually result in heavy and inefficient tooling, which generate a lot of waste material.
Fortunately, additive manufacturing can help address these issues. This technology allows manufacturers to create lightweight, strong parts that are customized for specific applications and optimized for ergonomics.
Another area of manufacturing that has seen a big influence of additive manufacturing is in quality control and review. Quality control can be a very labor-intensive process which can bottle neck production lines.
Traditional quality control uses calipers and complex alignment fixtures to ensure that the parts and assemblies are within the desired scope. Incorporating additive production, the end user can replace the calipers and complex check fixtures with light weight, highly accurate 3D printed check fixtures.
This can work to lessen the time required to check components and if integrated into every part of the process, could help reduce the scrap rate and rework requirements.
With additive manufacturing, designers also have greater freedom to be creative and consolidate assemblies into single parts. This means that additive manufacturing can revolutionize the way manufacturing aids are made, making the process more efficient, cost-effective, and safer for workers.
Additive Manufacturing of End Use Parts
In addition to supporting manufacturing using tooling check fixtures, additive manufacturing is also beginning to replace traditional manufacturing methods used to produce end use parts. The main driving factor that is encouraging this shift is the advancement in material availability. Let’s take a look at some additive manufacturing technologies and explore how their new materials are being used for end use parts.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
FDM 3D printing is a popular form of additive manufacturing that has been around for a while. It works by using a heated nozzle to extrude a molten thermoset in a specific pattern to create a part layer by layer. Traditionally, limitations in extrusion technology limited the material choices to ABS, ASA, or PLA.
While these materials are common and have relatively desirable mechanical and physical properties, they may not always have the most desirable properties for a specific application. For example, some parts may need to withstand very high mechanical loads, possess certain levels of chemical resistance, or meet safety compliance standards for smoke, flame, and toxicity.
Fortunately, Stratasys has developed new FDM thermosets that meet even stringent safety regulations. Materials like Ultem 9085CG and Kimya PC-FR enable end-users to print functional end use parts that comply with FAA and Rail regulations for smoke, fire, and toxicity. Additionally, designers now have access to a wider range of specialized thermosets, such as carbon-filled nylons, food-safe Ultem, and electrical static dissipative ABS.
Thanks to rapid advancement in FDM 3D printing material science, designers have a much larger set of materials that can provide a wide range of physical and mechanical properties. This opens new possibilities for printing end-use parts with the desired properties for a wider range of applications, especially when run on the Stratasys production 3D printers, such as the F900, Fortus 450mc, and F370CR.
The Origin One printer is a Digital Light Projection (DLP) printer that projects a UV light at a resin that polymerizes under UV light. The printer flashes the pattern of each layer’s cross section and will iteratively build the part until it is complete.
One of the advantages of this technology is that the print time of a part is only dependent on its Z height. This means that whether you are printing one part or multiple parts on the same tray, the printing time will be the same. Users can even stack multiple parts on top of each other in the print tray to increase efficiency and achieve production level throughput.
In terms of the finished product, unlike FDM, users of the Origin One can create objects that have isotropic mechanical properties, meaning they are similar in strength and performance in all directions. The printer is also capable of producing flexible, rigid, and clear parts, giving users a wide range of design flexibility.
Additionally, the Origin One printer can come with an open materials license that allows users to print with a very wide range of UV-curable resin. This eliminates material constraints, and manufacturers are constantly developing new material offerings to suit different applications.
Again, this production ready printer provides a superior surface finish paired with the isotropic mechanical properties and new material offerings enable users to achieve production level throughput with production level part quality.
Selective Absorption Fusion (SAF)
SAF is a powder based printing technology that uses heat to sinter each powder layer together to build a part. Like the Origin system, print time using this technology is only dependent on the Z axis and parts also resemble isotropic mechanical properties.
The Stratasys H350 utilizes the SAF technology and is known to be the most production geared machine within the Stratasys ecosystem. The H350 can print parts using Nylon PA11, Nylon PA12 and Polypropylene allowing for a seamless transition from traditional injection molded parts to 3D printed manufacturing.
The H350 also compliments parts with finer details than traditional injection molded parts. Since the parts aren’t molded, designers aren’t constrained by draft angles and other molding characteristics. Additionally since powder technology is self supporting, designers also no longer need to consider support structure and support material into their design process. This enables complete design freedom to optimize the part for its application and not its manufacturability.
In addition to material availability, the machine has been designed to efficiently nest parts within the build volume to obtain a very high level of throughput.
For example, we did a case study for a prosthetic manufacture who was looking to produce end use foot orthotics for patients. Traditionally, these parts were made with a CNC to carve out the part from a polypropylene blank. This process proved to be slow, labor intensive and expensive. In this case, the H350 and SAF technology could be utilized to print 144 pairs of foot orthotics in a 13 hour build. This allowed them to rapidly expand their production capabilities, lowered their scrap rate, lowered their tooling costs, and reduced the labor time for each insole.
Production 3D Printers Conclusion
Over the years 3D printing and additive manufacturing has shifted its focus from being a nice to have toolset for prototyping and has become a viable manufacturing solution for many industries. Now with production 3D printers, you can get the dependability and reliability you need to manufacture parts, to get to market faster, all while owning your supply chain.
If you would like to learn more about how you can implement additive manufacturing to help compliment your business workflow, please feel free to reach out to us and we would be happy to discuss it with you further.