PROFESSIONAL 3D PRINTER FOR INDUSTRY
Using a professional 3D printer for industry to make molds, casting and for other production needs
Additive manufacturing with a professional 3D printer for industry is a growing segment. At 3D Center we offer a full range of 3D printers that use different techniques. We are experts in using these machines, and can help you select the right solution for your business.
In this article we discuss:
- Printing the products instead of molding
- Tooling for injection molds
- Conformal cooling with metal printing
Print the products instead of molding
Printing end-use products in plastics
Some of our professional 3D printers for industry can make plastic parts that are strong enough to be used right out of the printer. The main technique for doing this is called SLS, and we have a variety of sizes and speeds available for SLS printing. The materials available include very strong and durable nylon and carbon fibre strengthened materials that last for actual end-use products.
SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) printers have a bed filled with a fine polymer powder that is sintered with a laser, layer by later. Every time a layer is printed, the model is lowered a fraction of a millimeter, and new powder is raked over the model to be sintered on top.
There are also a number of 3D printing techniques that can make highly detailed color models, for design communication. Generally speaking non-SLS materials are most suited for display and visualization, very useful for verifying design and form.
Benefits of printing parts directly with SLS
Time savings with SLS
The time it takes to start producing parts in this manner is minuscule compared to the process of starting production with molding. No molds have to be made, no tooling is required, and you can verify your design the same day as it is printed directly from a CAD-file.
Less parts using SLS
Original duct assembly with multiple parts. Requires assembly.
New 3D printed duct in one piece, requiring no assembly.
There are use-cases, for example from aerospace, where part counts were lowered dramatically because of the complex geometry that 3D printers can produce.
Digital warehouse lasts forever
Having a digital warehouse avoids tying up capital, and committing to designs that may become obsolete. With a digital warehouse you may print parts on demand. At the time of a given order you may produce the necessary number and type of parts for your production. Investing in a 3D printing solution of this type means that your spare part stock will last forever.
The normal print speed in the height-direction (Z ) is about 15mm/hour. Depending on capacity need, you may choose from a variety of build volumes. Smaller parts can, of course, be printed in batches simultaneously.
If your product is produced by SLS printing, or any other additive manufacturing technique, you can prolong the development phase for your products and implement improvements directly. Compared to traditional manufacturing where the cost of changing a tool or a mound are significant, this method provides the time necessary to improve designs before production.
You do not need to be limited by traditional “Design for manufacturing” constrains. Technical design features may become a possibility that were previously unthinkable, and SLS also provides you with a greater array of possibilities for weight/strength optimization.
Example where technical design is used in combination with SLS. This product from Vatreco in Sweden can’t be produce with traditional methods.
Example of a weight/strength optimized part produced by Lieber group. By using software from solidThinking for optimization 50% of the weight was reduced.
Materials for SLS printing
SLS can be used to produce parts in a variety of materials and colors. Flame retardant materials can be used, materials that reduce smoke. Material properties such as stiffness, flexibility or break-points can be achieved by variation of the internal structure. There are also rubber like materials as well as carbon or aluminum reinforced materials from companies such as Windform, who are experts in SLS materials. If you want a 3d printed part that is strong and lasts – SLS is your best bet.
Challenges of SLS printing
Resolution using SLS
SLS does not have the same high resolution as many other printing methods, so either you need to be making parts that don’t require high resolution, or some treatment of the products afterwards is required.
How do I know if SLS printing of end-use products is right for my company?
If you are going to make fewer than 1000 copies per year of any one component, printing in 3D has a good chance of saving you money and helping you in the development of your products. Above 1000 copies per year for any one series the costs begin to favor traditional manufacturing. Future expectations in material costs and efficiency in equipment may increase the break-even point up to about 10,000 pcs. For now the sweet-spot for SLS production is low volume and/or high complexity.
Printing Metals in 3D
Metal printing is very exiting but needs to be evaluated for the purpose. There are many success stories regarding metal 3D printing. But there are also many misunderstandings. For example, printing spare parts for cars is still too expensive. The range of materials is constantly growing and includes titanium and aluminium, among many others.
Benefits of 3D printing in metal
Unique products such as dental implants or bio-medical devices – especially parts that are custom made, are especially strong cases for 3D printing in metal and other materials . Aerospace and automotive benefits a lot from metal printing and also tooling where complex cooling channels easy can be produced. Many products that are printed in metal form geometry that is impossible to accomplish with traditional casting, lathing and milling. Custom-made parts for bio-medical and dental applications are difficult to make in metal, whereas 3D scanning and CAD modeling allow 3D printed parts to be an exact fit.
Challenges of 3D printing in metal
3D printing in metal is expensive, and the surface of anything printed in metal resembles a fine sandpaper. Surface treatment is required, and casting can often rival 3D printing for cost effectiveness. Still, there are a number of compelling cases where 3D printing is the best option.
Tooling for Injection molds
We offer a few different 3D printers for industry that can make strong injection molds. The two main techniques used are MJP (Multi Jet Printing) and DLP Moving Light. Our rental offering is for an MJP printer that can be used to make injection molds, among other things.
With these 3D printers you can make form plastic injection molds that will hold for between 10 and 200 injections. The machines print mold halves including channels for injection. Multiple identical molds can be printed in a single printing batch, so the actual number of injections that can be made from one round of printing can increase, depending on the size of the mold being printed, and how many molds can be made at once.
Benefits of printing injection molds with professional 3D printers
– Verify your design, and make many changes before production
Anyone who works in manufacturing knows how costly changes in a design can be. With 3D printing of an injection mold you can verify your designs and even assemble parts before any commitment is made to your production tooling.
– Small batches with injection molds
Rapid tooling with a 3D printer is a very fast way to verify the injection mold design or create small batches. The verified mold you print can then be used as a prototype to make a high-volume mold with traditional tooling methods. The same CAD model that is used to make the mold can also be the foundation of a lost-wax (see below) prototype, making for complete fidelity between the 3D printed molds and the production molds.
Tooling for casting and molding
Lost wax casting with professional 3D printers
We have 3D printers for industry that print very high resolution wax models. Lost wax is applicable for smaller and high-detailed products – anything from jewelry to train models. The wax prints can help you recreate intricate jewelry design, coins, or very small metal parts. Direct wax prints are produced with MJP-technology.
The wax prototype is packed into plaster and the wax is simply melted away. Afterwards the cavity is a very high resolution copy of the original, and casting can begin.
Advantages of lost wax casting
The resolution and precision of a 3D printed wax model outshine traditional prototypes by miles. What’s more, changes and customization are easy, since the start-up cost and lead time of producing these wax originals is miniscule in comparison to traditional tooling.
Conformal cooling with metal printing
Conformal cooling means that tiny channels are built into the mold, through which coolant material is pumped while the product is cooling. This means that cooling time is significantly reduced. Doing this with traditional tooling methods is next to impossible.
Benefits of conformal cooling
The most famous user of conformal cooling is Lego. Lego used conformal cooling channels to double their production capacity. If the cooling time for your material is a significant bottle-neck, and if you are producing very large series, then 3D printed metal tooling may be a fantastic solution for you.
Challenges of conformal cooling
Generally speaking, tooling in printed metal has such a high price tag that it’s hard to justify. The exception is when cooling channels can be added to molds that will be used in high volume production.
3D printed metal tools must be machined for surface finish. The cost of making the tools is about double the cost of traditional tooling. Those costs need to be offset by savings in the production time. We have qualified consultants than can help you with the calculations necessary to make the case for conformal cooling.
Cooling circuits are built into the tools to extract the highest number of calories possible.