You can make a splash with a concept on a piece of paper, get clients to ooh and ahh over a 3-D digital model, but nothing turns a ‘maybe into a ‘definitely’ with potential investors like a 3D printed scale replica of your latest product concept.
What is 3D printing?
Three dimensional printing is a rapid prototyping method that allows a product to be represented as scale modeled part from a Computer Aided Design (CAD). This rapid manufacturing technique can create an accurate physical representation of a design or concept, which allows you to see the design concept at a represented scaled down size. From the printed model you can make changes to the design or manufacturing processes.
Why Should You Use 3D Printing?
3D printing is a quick method to generate quick samples for tradeshows, proof of concepts, and is generally identified as a low cost option to produce a part compared to a full scale manufacturing process with complete injection molding dies. It is commonly used for a low quantity of parts, whether the parts are plastic or metal, and the design or manufacturing process can be optimized as each part is made.
What Types of 3D Printing is Available?
Your design and product may have multiple pieces that include both metal and plastic. 3D printing offers multiple plastic and metal options for an economical means of producing product concept samples. These are current options available for your product samples, and with more being developed all the time:
Metal 3D Printing
Metal 3D printing is perfect for generating complex lower cost samples that need to incorporate reduced weight and higher strength. It can create samples using hollow cavities or negative areas that decrease weight as it prints in layers in a matter of hours. Multiple metal options are available and no tooling is required to generate each prototype sample.
Stereolithography (SLA) was one of the earliest adopted processes for 3D printing or additive manufacturing for plastic. It is fast a technique for rapid prototyping, and does allow for complex internal designs features that aren’t possible with traditional manufacturing methods. SLA is a great option for low volume production parts for a quick prototype. They are made from a bath of photosensitive liquid that is solidified layer by layer with an Ultra-Violet light. The designed part is sectioned into layers by a computer and then these sections are created with the UV light passing through the liquid bath. Stereolithography allows for a finished part with a good quality finish and increased strength.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
With Selective Laser Sintering, the design is completed one layer at a time using a laser to sinter a powder media. SLS can be used for plastic and metal prototypes, and it also allows for intricate internal designs that aren’t possible with traditional manufacturing processes. One potential drawback is that the surface finish is generally rough, so the finished parts may need additional work to smooth the surface if that is a finished product criteria.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
Selective Laser Melting is another option using powder media and is a process that can be using with intricate designs requiring very accurate details. The powdered media is welded onto a plate with a laser in a closed chamber. The most common powered metals include stainless steel, titanium, maraging steel, and cobalt chrome. SLM is the preferred option for parts requiring high strength, high durability, and a complex or intricate design. The prototype process is expensive and is usually kept for applications in automotive, aerospace, the defense industry, or in medical uses.
Digital Light Processing
Another option using a curing resin is Digital Light Processing. It is comparable to Stereolithography (SLA) prototyping. It passes a more common light source through resin to cure it, but it needs supports and post-build curing where SLA does not. It is faster than SLA, and be less costly than SLA also. It keeps a good tolerance to the initial design and has a good surface finish.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
If you think of the new 3D printing desktop versions people are using in their homes, these machines create by Fused Deposition Modeling. FDM melts a small plastic filament inside a printing nozzle and the machine deposits the melted plastic systematically layer-by-layer to create the finished prototype.
Advantages of using FDM include the low cost, the machines are easy to use, and you can use multiple plastic types and colors in one prototype. The trade-offs are a rough surface condition and low strength of the finished parts.
Laminated Object Manufacturing
With Laminated Object Manufacturing, thin laminates are laid layer by layer on a build platform. The lamination options can be paper, plastic, or metal. For each layer, a laser or another cutting device traces out the pattern for the layer and then the platform moves down by the thickness of one layer. The next lamination layer is glued on top and the process continues until all layers are complete. The finished product should be used for design that aren’t very complex, but LOM does not cost as much as many of the other options that require critical dimensional tolerances.
What option will be best for your project?
With these seven 3D printing options, the designs can range from simple to complex. Each will offer advantages and disadvantages concerning cost, time to produce the product, strength of the materials, and the materials that can be used. No matter which material and process is chosen, one thing you can count on is that your design will benefit from having a 3D printed prototype sample made to show potential customers, clients, and investors. When you’re ready to work with our elite team on your next design concept, call (425) 339-0288 or email us at email@example.com.