3D printing frequently asked questions
From the logical to the entirely unexpected, the range of questions Laser Lines’ product specialist field from potential clients is broad, and often thought provoking. Peter Smith and Phil Roberts reveal the four they hear the most often.
What can a 3D printer do for me?
“This is the starting point of any conversation, whether with a client or a curious family member,” says Phil Roberts, Laser Lines product specialist for the South. “Our customers have all sorts of scenarios for using a 3D printer, and we’re coming across new ones all the time. Industries that have done things a certain way for decades are switching to additive manufacturing, and opening up new opportunities, and applications for 3D printing.”
There’s always something new to talk about, with innovative devices like the Orlas Creator, Desktop Metal Studio System and materials like the robust Nylon 12CF and pliable Agilus 30 and TangoPlus, coming into the Laser Lines portfolio in 2018.
“We’ve had some great opportunities to talk about new materials this year, and their lower prices,” Roberts says. “When Stratasys shipped the F123 range, material prices tumbled, reducing the part costs by 50%. That’s a significant saving, which makes on-site additive manufacturing more viable for smaller firms than it was 12-18 months ago.”
How long will a 3D printer last?
“Customers want to maximise the value of their investment,” says Peter Smith, Laser Lines product specialist for the West. “They always ask how long a printer should last and whether it can be upgraded over time.”
The good news is that the software that runs, controls and monitors a printer is easily upgraded.
When Stratasys recently introduced new materials, for example, it updated the firmware for several of its existing printers so that they could make use of it. Existing users’ hardware investments will last longer, becoming more versatile over time.
“I’d usually advise potential clients that a printer could last them ten years,” Smith says. “We’ve got five or six in the Laser Lines office approaching that age now, all still putting in good service.”
What will a 3D printer cost me?
Businesses have specific uses in mind, and know how much they want to save by investing in a 3D printer. If they have been using a bureau service, they need to calculate how quickly the printer will pay for itself in time- and cost-savings.
“As a salesperson, you actually relish questions like this. Particularly when someone says a part sounds expensive if it’s produced on site,” says Roberts. “It’s surprisingly easy to justify the price of a 3D printer when you consider that it saves the client the expense of having something designed remotely, the inconvenience of losing the connection between the engineering and production stages, and the hassle of waiting for a third-party to do your job among several others.
“Bringing everything under one roof, by putting a 3D printer in the same building as the designer, means changes can be made more quickly, and a product can be developed more smoothly. It will easily offset the cost of the printer over its useful life.”
Can I print from a picture?
“This is a great one, as it’s a really common question with a simple answer, but It engages ideas and an open conversation” Smith says.
Simply, the answer is no, but for how long? “Today, you need to create or scan geometry then pass through CAD software and save it in a format that can be read by the 3D print software in order to slice and create the 3D print file.
“We don’t just sell and support printers. We also handle the full range of Evixscan 3D scanners, which have stunning levels of accuracy. They are tripod-mounted, so you won’t end up with gaps in the mesh, and easier to use than a hand-held scanner. If you need to reproduce a complex inanimate object, like a telephone handset or part of a car, they are the perfect tools for the job.”
For something flightier, like a pet dog, things would be rather more difficult. “The scanners are quick, but they do rely on the object staying still,” says Smith. “It depends how long you could distract your pet with a biscuit but, in reality, I’d have to advise whoever asked me this one not to get their hopes up.”