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Industrial 3-D Printers: How to Find the Best One for You
Industrial 3-D printers take 3-D printing to the next level by providing commercial quality prototypes and end-user products. These heavy-duty machines come in several builds and sizes, and choosing one largely depends on your business's unique needs and budget.WhiteClouds, a 3D Printing company, has some samples below of what Industrial 3D Printers can do.
WhiteClouds, a 3D Printing company, has some samples below of what Industrial 3D Printers can do.
To help you find the right machine for your business, here are 10 things to consider.
The first step to choosing a 3-D printer is finding one within your budget. Industrial 3-D printers cost anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000, which gives you a wide range to consider, depending on your budget.
Factors that affect pricing include printing materials, printer specs and size. When it comes to selecting a 3-D printer, price seems to be directly correlated with printing output and quality.
2. Printer type
Why do you need an industrial 3-D printer? Printers can be used for making prototypes or for full production, or both. If you only need to create prototypes, you can spend a lot less by finding a printer that specializes in producing mock-ups.
There are also 3-D printers that can handle both prototyping and production. These printers can either be programmed for the type of printing required or they can automatically detect the output purpose based on the printing material that's installed. But these will likely cost you more.
Industrial 3-D printers use a variety of printing materials. Choose a machine that supports the type of material your prototype or end product needs.
The most common material used is thermoplastics. These are durable plastics that melt when heated and solidify when cooled. They can also be melted again and reused, which reduces waste and is a more economical option.
There are two types of thermoplastics:
ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) — ABS is the most common material used by 3-D printing professionals because it is flexible, strong and tolerates high temperatures.
PLA (polylactic acid) — PLA produces thinner layers, forms sharper corners and comes in a range of colors. Environmentally conscious companies may prefer PLA because it is corn-based, making it a more biodegradable source of 3-D printing material.
Here is a quick breakdown of other popular materials used in industrial 3-D printing:
Resin — Best for creating smooth objects, precision printing and varnishing
Nylon — Best for custom colors. Its natural color is white, which can then can be colored to specifications
Wood — Uses a mix of recycled wood and polymer and is best for wood-looking finishes
Stainless steel — Mostly used in commercial 3-D printing. Most items that are printed contain a blend of stainless steel and bronze to create durable finished products
4. Printer specs
Industrial 3-D printers have a multitude of complicated technical specs. Here are four basic but important specs to pay attention to based on your business's needs:
Extruders — Extruders contain the actual printing nozzles. If you need to print with multiple materials and in several different colors, choose a printer that has more than one extruder. Having more extruders also means faster printing times.
Speed — Lower-end industrial 3-D printers can print at a rate of 100 millimeters per second; higher-end printers can print up to 30 pounds or more of materials per hour. Mid-range printers offer a great mix of speed and cost for most businesses. Factors that also affect speed include the number of extruders, printing resolution and product details.
Resolutions — Like traditional printers, 3-D printers also allow you to select low- or high-resolution printing. Lower resolution means thicker layers, while higher resolution makes layers less visible. It's imperative to check the minimum and maximum resolutions to see if they fit your requirements. Some manufacturers may also send or show you samples of various resolutions.
Print area — If you need to print larger items, you'll need a larger print area. Industrial 3-D printers can print objects up to one cubic meter. The larger the build area, however, the more the printer will cost.
5. Printer design
Will your printer be stored in a warehouse or garage? Or will it be in a more professional setting, such as an office or shop? Not all industrial printers are built alike, so consider your facility and how the printer will fit visually and in terms of space. For instance, some printers are built with sleek designs and beautiful framing, perfect for offices and shops. Others have rougher features that are more suited for warehouses or garages.
Additionally, consider the printer's dimensions and how it will fit into your designated area. You may be surprised at the size of industrial 3-D printers, especially if you are purchasing one online. Larger models require much more space and may even be designed to be built into walls. Make sure that the printer you choose is both practical and can be accommodated by your facility.
Industrial 3-D printers come with several display options. This includes a touch screen, buttons and colored LEDs. You can choose between small and large LCD displays, but larger displays often have more features, such as the ability to visually track printing progress. Depending on your preferences, a printer's display can be the difference between an easy- or difficult-to-use printer.
7. Printer assembly
Do you have the time, tools, skills and human power to build your 3-D printer? Some 3-D printers are sold like Ikea furniture, making them a cheaper option than fully assembled machines. Keep in mind, though, that in addition to physically assembling the printer, you will need to calibrate and test the printer yourself.
Consider the type of accessories and peripherals your printer needs, such as support cartridges and attachable storage. Depending on how you store your printer, you may also want to look into mobility systems, such as carts, so you can move the printer around your facility.
Another accessory to look into is built-in or attachable cameras. These cameras allow you to closely monitor printings. The camera feed can be sent to you via computer or mobile phone.
9. Software and connectivity
Software and connectivity are critical components of industrial 3-D printers. To use an industrial 3-D printer, you'll need to install software that tells the machine what to print as well as connect the printer to the computer.
Manufacturers typically package printers with their own software to open and print STL files, the standard file format for 3-D printing. (The printer's software is separate from the 3-D modeling software, which is used to create the STL file.) However, most of this software is only compatible with select Windows and Mac operating systems. Check your operating system and version to ensure you won't have any incompatibility issues.
Many machines connect directly to your computer using a USB or Ethernet connection. If a wired connection is inconvenient, some printers offer Wi-Fi connectivity. A wireless connection is especially helpful if there will be multiple users and computers connected to the printer.
A few industrial 3-D printers come with a USB or SD card slot, which eliminates the need to connect to a computer altogether. You can save the STL file straight from your modeling software directly onto the USB or SD card, and then plug it into the printer's slot.
From assembly to setup, maintenance and technical support, anything can go wrong. Choose a printer backed with technical support by its manufacturer. Look for one with a good warranty program, so you don't have to pay a fortune if something breaks or the equipment needs to be replaced.
Also look for real-time, one-on-one technical support, such as live chat or phone support, so there's always someone there when you need help. Other useful resources include email support, video tutorials, training materials, webinars, online communities and FAQ sections on the manufacturer's website.
List of 10Industrial 3D Printers
uPrint SE is an industrial 3D printer that has accurate, high-quality prints. See what you can prototype with the uPrint SE in our comparison.
Although it's small in size, the Mojo is big on quality. Find out how quick the Mojo can print here.
The Solidscape Max2 is a wax 3D printer for creating models and casts. Find out what casts you can print by reading the full comparison.
ProJet 3500 HD Max is a multi-jet printer with above-average accuracy and resolution. Read the full appraisal on the high-definition and high-speed settings.
The Replicator Z18 is an industrial 3D printer from the powerhouse Makerbot. See why it's an excellent choice for high-quality prototypes at a low price.
The Eosint M 280 prints use-end models with metal so they are more durable compared to plastic. Discover more about this large-scale 3D printer here.
The Dimension 1200es 3D printer is an industrial machine that can handle different resolutions. Find out what makes this 3D printer one of the best here.
The Fortus 250mc has variable resolutions and the option to use custom filament colors. Discover how printing with the Fortus can help your team here.
The ExOne S-Print is a 3D printer that uses resin and sand to create molds and casts for further processing. Read more about this industrial-sized printer.