How to choose 3D printing process and materials?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has had a significant impact on various industries. So, how to choose the 3D printing process and materials that suit your needs?

 

In the past few decades, the development of 3D printing has proved that this technology has brought huge advantages to consumers, designers, engineers, and manufacturers. Traditional production methods have limitations in terms of manufacturability, while 3D printing benefits from the additive method of building parts layer by layer, with unparalleled design freedom. Since additive manufacturing does not require tools, it has become a very fast production method that can turn parts within hours or days. Shortened supply chains and increased production efficiency are the reasons why companies from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies include it in their work processes.

 

However, in the process of using 3D printing technology, there may be questions about various additive manufacturing systems, their inherent quality, related materials, internal operations, and the cost of outsourcing to contract manufacturers. Next, we will analyze the common types of additive manufacturing, related processes and systems, and how to determine which additive manufacturing solution is best for your project.

 

 

3D printing technology type

 

There are four main types of 3D printing technology, and there are often updated processes. Each additive manufacturing process uses different materials to produce components with unique properties that can be used in specific applications.

 

 

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has had a significant impact on various industries. So, how to choose the 3D printing process and materials that suit your needs?

 

 

In the past few decades, the development of 3D printing has proved that this technology has brought huge advantages to consumers, designers, engineers, and manufacturers. Traditional production methods have limitations in terms of manufacturability, while 3D printing benefits from the additive method of building parts layer by layer, with unparalleled design freedom. Since additive manufacturing does not require tools, it has become a very fast production method that can turn parts within hours or days. Shortened supply chains and increased production efficiency are the reasons why companies from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies include it in their work processes.

 

 

However, in the process of using 3D printing technology, there may be questions about various additive manufacturing systems, their inherent quality, related materials, internal operations, and the cost of outsourcing to contract manufacturers. Next, we will analyze the common types of additive manufacturing, related processes and systems, and how to determine which additive manufacturing solution is best for your project.

 

3D printing technology type

 

There are four main types of 3D printing technology, and there are often updated processes. Each additive manufacturing process uses different materials to produce components with unique properties that can be used in specific applications.

 

Vat Polymerization

 

Reductive polymerization in which liquid photopolymers are cured by photosensitive polymerization is one of the first additive manufacturing processes developed. Precise ultraviolet light cures and solidifies thin layers of photosensitive resin layer by layer. This method is widely known as stereolithography and commercialized in the mid-1980s. Considering the original 3D printing technology, three-dimensional lithographic printing parts are used to invest in casting patterns, prototypes, and conceptual models. Another noteworthy technology is the Digital Light Processing (Digital Light Processing) process.

 

Material Extrusion

 

This type of additive manufacturing dispenses material by heating the nozzle or extruder head. After laying a layer, lower the building platform, or move the extrusion head upward, and print the next layer on top of the previous layer. The raw material is usually a thermoplastic filament, which is wound on a spool and melted during extrusion. A common technique using this method is Fused Deposition Modelling. With the ability to use common thermoplastic materials for construction, this type of additive manufacturing can be used to manufacture production parts, manufacturing tools, and functional prototypes.

 

Powder Bed Fusion

 

The powder layer fusion uses thermal energy to melt the cross-sectional area of ​​the powder. The heat energy melts the powdered material and solidifies after cooling. For polymers, the unused powder around the part is used to fix the part, so no additional support is usually required. For metal parts, anchors are usually needed to connect the part to the print bed and support the downward structure. Laser sintering (also known as Selective Laser Sintering) was commercialized in 1992, followed by high-speed sintering technology, and more recently multi-jet welding (MJF). In metal manufacturing, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and electron beam melting molding (EBM) are currently very popular industrial systems.

 

Material Jetting

 

With multi-nozzle print heads, material jetting is currently one of the faster additive manufacturing methods. The additive manufacturing method deposits droplets of build material layer by layer. The material jetting system can print multi-material and graded material parts. Parts are produced using different proportions of each material, resulting in various colors and multiple material properties. Generally, these systems use photopolymers, waxes, and digital materials, where multiple photopolymer bodies are mixed and sprayed simultaneously. Technologies such as multi-jet modeling and jetting are used to create rapid prototypes, conceptual models, investment casting patterns, and anatomical realistic medical models.

 

3D printing materials

 

In traditional manufacturing methods, the types of materials to choose from are almost unlimited. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printing is bound to the materials used by each specific system and machine. Currently, most of the additive manufacturing components can be plastic or metal, depending on the technology that has some composite optional materials.

 

Production materials need certification and mechanical properties that meet industry-specific requirements, such as aerospace flame ratings and medical biocompatibility. Different industries have different requirements for durability, appearance, and resistance.

 

Considerations for choosing process

 

 

In order to ensure the most appropriate results, there are several key considerations when selecting technology for your project:

 

From prototype to production quality, any part of the product can be replaced with 3D printed parts. The requirements of each application are unique and require careful inspection and planning to determine the appropriate 3D printing process and materials to meet the needs of the project. For example, when creating a prototype, the design team usually needs to use cost-effective materials for rapid turnover, while still needing to accurately present the form and function of the final product. On the other hand, production parts must be made as final products and need to meet certain quality, testing, chemical, and structural requirements.

 

Print performance requirements

 

According to the performance requirements of 3D printed parts, the appropriate processes and materials will vary. If the part needs to be similar in appearance to the final product or needs to maintain its shape as a static model, then jetting may be the best method because of its fast turnover speed and its smooth and natural surface. Stereolithography is also a good choice for parts such as entertainment props or large conceptual models, which require light post-processing to polish the surface. If printing prototype components need to be able to withstand shock or high temperature, FDM can be used to obtain powerful and durable parts from high-performance materials. If the design of the part requires complex undercutting, airflow, or durable living hinges, laser system thermoplastics may be ideal. The above factors need to be complexly integrated, but careful consideration of component performance requirements can help simplify the selection of the appropriate 3D printing process.

 

The environment of the print

 

Many 3D printed parts need to be operated in high temperature or humid environments. Some 3D printing processes and materials were quickly excluded by these parameters. For example, outdoor applications may require UV-stable materials, but photopolymers will rapidly degrade under UV irradiation. Moisture can adversely affect certain materials, causing parts to warp, curl, or decrease dimensional accuracy. This is due to the inherent water absorption of some 3D printing materials. In some applications, this part may require food-safe grade materials. In this case, thermoplastics will be the best choice.

 

Durability

 

3D printed jigs or fixtures may have to go through thousands of cycles and withstand tremendous pressure, while a suitable test prototype may only need to be run once. Engineering-grade thermoplastics can withstand tremendous pressure, making them ideal materials for functional prototypes or production parts. On the other hand, photopolymer materials are more effective in short-term low-pressure applications.

 

Post-processing

 

The parts made by the material injection system appear smoother, and it is easier to complete the post-processing manually to achieve the ideal appearance. Due to the thicker layer resolution of the plastic parts manufactured by the material extruder, the post-processing is difficult, and more labor and skills are required to achieve a smooth surface, which increases labor costs and prolongs the delivery time. Additive metals and alloys require more time, energy, and expertise to realize polished products. Metal parts usually need to be machined, removed from the print bed, and the support frame removed, rolled, or polished. To figure out the final demand and the characteristics of the key parts in advance will shorten the post-processing time to ensure the delivery date.

 

 

Budget, time and quality

 

Depending on the product quality, cost, and lead time, quality, and cost can be weighed against each other; fast turnover and high-quality post-processing requirements are mutually exclusive. Only by balancing the budget, the production cycle, and the quality of the final demand, you can find the right balance and choose the right 3D printing solution.

 

priority

 

The "one size fits all" approach is not suitable for 3D printing. The factors listed above require consideration of different priorities, considering the advantages, disadvantages, and nuances of each available process, material, and decoration options, which will help you determine the most suitable method for the project.

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