Print technology has evolved rapidly in the last 30 years. From the dot matrix printers of the ‘80s to the growth of 3D printing today, users have come to expect what might have once seemed impossible.
3D printing creates a physical, three-dimensional object from a digital model. The technology is seeing global growth at all stages of workflow. Whether used in the planning stages of a business concept or in the development of tools, products or parts, 3D printing is changing the landscape of manufacturing and production.
While 3D printing was once primarily used as cost-effective method to create prototypes or one-off products, it is rapidly becoming an option for midsize volume production and end-use parts. For the bold, 3D printing can be done at home or on-site at your business. There are complex elements and sensitive equipment to manage and understand, however, including bed leveling, filament and nozzle care, maintenance tools and of course, the latest software.
If you are thinking about this technology for your next project, you may be interested in studying these eight 3D printing tips:
1. Tip #1: Have Clear Business Goals
Many companies choose to forego the investment and learning curve of doing 3D printing on their own. Instead, they lean on the expertise of a business that specializes in 3D printing.
It is important to know that 3D printing has a different set of tips and tricks for businesses. When you are just using your 3D printer for fun, you don’t have to reach specific quotas or adhere to strict deadlines. With businesses, however, you need to meet certain production goals. Whether you need a prototype developed or a small batch of a product or part, know your volume requirements, your timeline and your budget.
2. Tip #2: Think in Three Dimensions
3D printing is now a production technology, able to create tools, molds, fixtures, cutting patterns and on-demand spare parts, allowing it to compete with traditional production options for small batch manufacturing. In a wide range of applications, 3D printing is revolutionizing industries such as education, aviation, engineering, healthcare, automotive, architecture, fashion and much more.
As you think about your end-product, consider the scale and size, as you would any project, but also visualize and measure in three dimensions. What will your sizing ratio be? Do you have an existing product you are trying to replicate?
3. Tip #3: Clarify Your Product Specs
The more you know about the specifications of your desired end product, the easier it will be to find a 3D printer who can meet your needs. What are the qualities of your end-product? Does it need an exact surface texture in order to work? Does it require a certain strength or elasticity? Does it need to float or be UV resistant? These are the kinds of specifications you will want to consider when preparing for a 3D print job.
4. Tip #4: Research the Process
While 3D printing sounds like a singular process, there are actually many types of production that fall under the category. Stereolithography (SLA), for example, is a popular rapid prototyping process that produces a smooth finish and is excellent for end-uses such as trade show models or concept models.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), on the other hand, is ideal for tough, stable parts, often used for end use parts, testing models or low volume manufacturing. Other processes include Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Metal 3D Printing and much more.
5. Tip #5: Know Your Material Needs
Does your end product require specific materials or can they be modified? Sometimes having the flexibility to substitute materials will lower costs or create efficiencies. Having a good understanding of the properties of your input materials will be helpful, too. For example, do you need materials that are water-resistant, soft, rigid, UV resistant, dissolvable, elastic or flexible?
6. Tip #6: Be Ready with File Formats
You will want to work closely with your 3D printer to make sure you are using the file types required by their equipment. Some of the most common file formats are: .STL, .OBJ, .gcode, .VRML, .3MF, .X3G and more.
7. Tip #7: Check Surface Normals
As part of your preparation for working with a 3D printer, you’ll want to make sure your models are as seamless as possible. One thing to look for is an issue with surface normals where, during the modeling process, a face’s normal can be accidentally reversed, causing the normal vector to point towards the interior of the model instead of away from it.
These can be easily fixed, when you know the problem exists, although surface normals are not always viewable by default; you may need to change display settings to see them.
8. Tip #8: Research 3D Printing Options
When it comes to finding the right partner for your 3D printing needs, it is worth the time to research their certification, track record, and their range of services. Choose a company with experience and a wide range of services, as your 3D printing needs may grow; you’ll want to have a trusted partner along for the journey.
We hope these 3D printing tips have been helpful. Whether you set out to create a new product, test a new way of doing things or simply increase efficiencies for your business, 3D printing offers exciting opportunities for those willing to explore the possibilities.