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How To Choose The Right 3D Printer for You?

Here at Laser Lines Ltd, when it comes to 3D Printing – Your Success is Our Success.

Choosing a 3D printer can be a minefield of emerging technologies and materials to weave through. To get the maximum benefit out of your investment, we make it our mission to understand exactly what it is you are trying to achieve.

Using proven 3D technology and 22 years as a Stratasys partner, we can match the right machine to your needs, not just for now, but also for the future. That is why many of our customers are seeing a ROI within 12 months or less.

Jane Gibbons, our technical sales engineer for 3D printing, explains how Laser Lines is supporting customers all over the UK to unlock the advantages additive manufacturing can bring to their business.

What advice would you give to someone looking to buy a 3D Printer?

Do your research. Look at different technologies; look at the pros and cons of the materials the printer can use, the different methods of removing the support structure and the size of the build area; ask yourself do you need heat resistance or CMYK colour? There are so many machines out there, you have to have an understanding first of what it is you are trying to achieve.

Once you have explored all the options, ask for a benchmark sample or samples for comparison, so you can see how your own work and engineering will reproduce. Then you can decide how relevant this technology will be to your production cycle.

What are the main technologies for manufacturing in 3D?

At the moment there are four main areas, depending on your application:

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography is the original 3D printing technology. It works by building a part up in layers of just 0.06mm. Using a big vat of liquid photopolymer resin, a UV laser will cure and solidify the part by tracing the pattern over the surface of the liquid, layer by layer. Widely used in product development, SLA delivers highly detailed parts with a nice finished surface.

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)

Fused Deposition Modelling was developed by Stratasys and its USP is that it can extrude engineering grade thermoplastic materials through a computer controlled heated print head. The range of materials now available makes FDM the go to choice for many industries, including aerospace and automotive applications. Great for end-use products as well as prototyping and creating a range of jigs and fixtures.

PolyJet Printing

PolyJet printing creates models by using a UV light source to solidify an inkjet printed liquid photopolymer. They have multiple jetting heads, up to 8 depending on the printer specification and can print a large range of material and colour combinations at the same time, allowing amazing product realisation.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective Laser Sintering uses a combination of a laser and very fine plastic powder to build your 3D model. Comparably faster than other processes, as it doesn’t require any support structure removal. Once you’ve removed any excess powder – you’ve got your part. Great for engineering and functional applications. This technology is also being used to 3D print parts in metal, known as DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering).

What’s your day-to-day role at Laser Lines?

There isn’t a typical day. We can be account managers, technical salespeople and to a certain extent for some customers, we are like a business partner because we are able to offer complete customer support throughout the processes needed. Yesterday I was helping in our Bureau, cleaning off the support for one of my customers’ orders.

What’s the best thing about your job?

We have a lot of wow moments. Last week one customer came into discuss a specific prototyping application and then halfway through the conversation they had a lightbulb moment. The conversation stopped and he said, “I’ve just realised I could use the machine for that and that as well.” You can see the penny dropping and we are experiencing increased demand as the market becomes more educated. A lot of buyers are interested in the price point which we can match, but the exciting thing is we can also add value to their investment by taking the time to understand their future processes and goals.

What savings can businesses achieve?

The potential is enormous. Mass customisation is now possible with 3D printing. If you have a ‘same but different’ job, with 3D printing all you have to do is make a minor alteration to the CAD file, save it to an STL file and print it overnight. You don’t even have to pay someone to be on site, unlike tooling. We had one customer who needed 60 ‘same but different’ jigs. Traditional tooling methods would have meant tooling them individually by hand, which would have been very expensive and labour intensive. This particular customer was able to print the jigs in half the time and save thousands of pounds.

What’s the biggest misconception in 3D printing?

That you can buy a MakerBot and print yourself a new liver! Seriously though, 3D printing has caught the media’s interest and while there are some exaggerations out there – no you cannot print yourself an ‘edible’ dinner yet – the range of applications available are expanding at a phenomenal rate. The basic fact that 3D printing allows a concept design or a production tool to be produced in one complete part, direct from CAD data, makes my job very exciting.

Need a benchmark sample? Contact us

Or to find out how a 3D Printer can boost your business, call the Laser Lines team on 01295 672500

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