Advances in technology have led to the development of the desktop 3D printer and other powerful 3D printing machines. This article explains the differences between a personal 3D printing machine and the industrial type, and which one is right for you.
There are many differences between a desktop 3D printer and the large ones used in commercial applications and industries, but the most important is the output.
All 3D printing machines do the same thing, and that’s print 3D objects based on 3D models you create, but the industrial 3d printers print in a larger scale.
However, there’s a lot more to it than that, as the following will show.
Desktop / Consumer Level 3D Printers
3D printers for consumer use are only capable of printing small objects, usually up to the size of a bread loaf. Some of the newer models however, promise large build platforms, measuring up to 11.2″ x 10.6″ x 9.06”, which is double the current standards.
High end desktop 3D printing machines come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with entry level filament printers available for $300 up to $2,000. For example the Ideawerk FDM 3d printer, these are basic printing machines that use filament deposition manufacturing (FDM) to create a model. Basically what it does is melt the plastic filament and build the object from these filament layers.
These are low cost and popular among hobbyists, and this article from Tweaktown shows you how to get the most out of it.
However, they can print in only one color and the build area is usually limited to 4 x 4 x 4 inches.
There are high end filament 3D printers however, with larger build areas and equipped with several extruders for smoother printing and more colors.
Other Personal 3D Printer Options
There are now low cost ($3,000 and up) 3D printing machines available that can print using material besides plastic. These new printers can print objects using clay, Sugru, Plasticine and other materials, giving you more flexibility. Furthermore, these new range of 3D printing machines can work with flexible, bendable materials that are almost as versatile as rubber.
These machines hold a lot of promise, and you can use these to print clay pots and jars among other possibilities. However, the materials supported are still in the experimental stage.
There are also stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing machines available for $3,000 and up, and they’re also quite. Unlike other 3D printers, it uses a laser and photosensitive resin. A light is shone on the resin in the layer pattern, which leads to solidification, and the light adds another layer until the object is completed. While powerful, few colors are available and it is quite expensive.
An article in Bloomberg Business Week shows that these large 3D printing machines are used in several industries to create parts and specialized components, and there lies the difference between a personal 3D printing machine and their industrial counterparts.
Whereas consumer 3D printing machines are used to create small objects, a large 3D printing machine is designed to manufacture aircraft components, automotive parts, or in the case of NASA, parts for potential use in outer space.
While consumer level 3D printing machines measure the build platform in inches, industrial level are capable of printing large, full scale objects.
Some of the bigger machines have a printing volume of more than a cubic meter, big enough to produce 1:1 models and prototypes.
With a large 3D printing machine you can create bicycle frames, furniture, skateboards, architectural designs, and more.
There are many kinds of commercial and industrial level 3D machines, including the powder printers. Powder printers spread fine powder on the build area while a laser melts it to create a layer.
The process is repeated to create the object, and unlike other printing machines, powder printers support custom colors and different building materials like glass, steel and plastics.
Which One is Right?
The answer depends on your needs. If you are new to 3D printing you should start with the lower end filament machines to get an idea of how they work.
These printers have become easier to use, but it’s still recommended that you proceed slowly so frustration doesn’t set in.
If you find the small build of the lower end 3D printing machines limiting, you may opt for the high end filament printers, which though more expensive offers more functions. With two-color printing options and considerable build areas, it’s the best option for most 3D hobbyists today.
The other 3D printing machines are best suited for advanced users for many reasons. They’re still expensive for one thing, and second many features and supported materials are still in the experimental stage.
Please remember that the 3D printing stage is still in its very early stage and they’re not as easy to use an inkjet printer.
There are a couple of other things you need to remember before you buy a 3D printing machine. First, the output hinges on the material you use, and as indicated above many printers only support specific types.
If you’re a hobbyist this won’t be much of an issue, but if you’re creating a prototype with an industrial machine, it will.
Second, you’ll need to be familiar with 3D software to put the printer to use. There are a lot of these available on the Web and many are free, but you need to invest time to learn how they work.
Of course if you’re familiar with 3D software this won’t be a problem, and really you should learn as much as you can about 3D modeling before you get one of these printers.
An article on New Scientist called the emergence of 3D printing as the second industrial revolution, and with good reason.
With a large 3D printer you can print anything you can create, and the implications and possibilities are mind boggling.
But as should be clear from above, even if you can’t afford to buy an industrial 3D printing machine, their desktop level counterparts are getting better all the time, and they’re more practical to use.