3D Platform Paves the Way for the Future of 3D Printing
3D Platform discusses the shift from prototyping to production within the additive manufacturing industry and paving the way for the future!
This is a pared down version of a webinar presented by Leslie Langnau of Design World, and featuring 3DP Platform representative John Good. John has a 35-year background working with high-performance motion control systems and with 3D printing. The focus of the webinar is to discuss the shift from prototyping to production within the additive manufacturing industry.
The survey says…
3D Platform has always been focused on large format FFF and utilizing that technology to respond to the needs of the marketplace. A survey, by Stratasys Direct, conducted last year posed the question, “What are customers asking for?” The survey represented a broad demographic of approximately 700 respondents within a variety of job roles, within small and large companies. The recipients spanned a wide cross-section of industries including aerospace, automotive, general manufacturing, and more. The take-away from their survey is that people are excited about embracing additive manufacturing as a complementary process to what they already have.
Larger Build Volumes
Some of the barriers to broader adoption fall into the categories of equipment costs and processing speed. 3D Platform and others need to respond to this if the promise of additive manufacturing is to be achieved. What we have learned at recent IMTS shows was that even with a professional production grade machine, the build areas are small at approximately 16” x 16” x 14”. With the need for parts much larger than that size of work area, our goal is to make large build platforms affordable. With that in mind, I’ll give a quick run-down of our large format 3D printers and their build areas:
- 3DP Workbench – Build area: 1 meter x 1 meter x 0.5 meter.
- 3DP Excel – Build area: 1.2 meters x 1.2 meters x 2.4 meters but extendable in cross section and in length up to 60x the reference point.
Faster Prints – Extruder Thoughput
People want to have faster throughput, and this means that extruders need to increase their ability to melt filament and then dispense it in the form of a layer on a print. It harkens back to the old days of dot matrix printing where everything used to be described as pages per minute. Now, everyone expects pages per second or a fraction of a second. So, those same paradigms in the world of 2D reflect what people are hoping for in the world of 3D and additive manufacturing.
- 3DP Gen 1 Extruder was literally 36 grams per hour. To go through a two-kilogram roll of filament you are starting to approach 20+ hours.
- High flow extruder (HPI) uses 6 mm filaments with nozzle sizes as high as 4.4 mm. Much like the Oakridge National Laboratory BAM project, you’re putting down rope diameter filament in order to achieve speed and strength. Now you are measuring throughputs in kilograms per hour, as opposed to grams per hour.
- Pellet Fed Extruder – Screw style extruders are able to achieve throughputs in Pellet Fed extruders starting at 4-6 kilograms per hour on up to 50-60 kilograms per hour.
The right tool for the right task – Additive, Robotic, Subtractive
Our core processes each have their own strength and limits. Just like a screwdriver, a hammer and a wrench, each are good for their specific applications. Offering the entire toolbox in a printer is our goal. Much the same way, additive, subtractive, and robotics are combined all within the same large printer. This allows users to run a parallel multi-process and helps to avoid compromising direction.
One example of where this parallel multi-process is demonstrated is in flat-panel plasma displays. Multiple interchangeable tools are used in the same work area to address either speed or an optimal function for the task. This has become very common in the semiconductor industry.
Another sector that is capitalizing on the ability of additive-subtractive-robotic functions is with molds and castings. This can include fascia, car panels, backhoes, etc. Traditionally, these are typically very large molds that start with a piece of either virgin plastic, aluminum or some other material. This virgin material then gets whittled down, sometimes with 95% of the raw material ending up on the floor. This is expensive and time consuming. In contrast, those who are choosing to print using the FFF multi-process are printing near net shape.
Take for instance something like a door fender that has a relatively thin cross-section. Operators will utilize a five-axis CNC, or an articulated robot to perform some secondary process like a drill or tap. We have also seen the FFF process lend itself to incorporating non-printed objects into the overall project. Imagine adding in electronics, fasteners, or hinges simultaneously with printing. This system could insert a printed circuit board into a cavity and then continuing the print to completion. This kind of capability really expands the application footprint for additive, because it is working in concert with the other processes.
Open Market – Material Innovations
There are some exciting innovations that relate to print materials. By accessing the open market, we are able to globally harness the energy of material scientists. There are thousands of chemists world-wide who are experienced in blending various polymers.
One example involves castings. When you are trying to make a mold master for a casting, any residue is a real problem. This polymer burns away clean at 600 degrees centigrade, leaving a high-quality functional mold. Another example is ABS. This phenomenal polymer, patented back in 1948 by Borg-Warner, shows how long it is been relevant.
Recently, there have been many new plant based polymers introduced to the markets. One is PTG, which everyone is familiar with from their water bottles, etc. These are plant-based, eco-friendly, and do not emit irritants like the classic petroleum-based polymers. They also do not sacrifice material properties such as bending modules, tensile strength, and impact strength.
If you’re looking for plant-based polymers that go beyond ABS, a good example is PLA (Polylactic Acid). The initial formulations of this corn-based polymer were hard and brittle. Now, due to the advancement of an open market mindset, there are now plant-based polymers that go beyond ABS.
Ultem, a high-temp polymer, is a perfect example of open market success. This polymer is suitable for some of the most demanding applications, like replacing aluminum parts in engine compartments. These parts are able to withstand temperatures to 150º C, which is suitable forthe automotive parts in engine compartments. Other polymer advancements include glass-filled nylon or carbon fiber nylons.
Open Market – Software Innovations
TA very unique example of the open software market and the innovations that come from it is a company called Gensole. They have uploaded a piece of software that allows you to literally scan your foot, import that as a 3D model, and apply attributes that allow you to create your insole. This opens up the floodgates for innovation that benefits those who may have the misfortune of having lost a limb or have other limits. This combination of marketplace needs, together with additive manufacturing, are
Industrial Reliability and Performance
A more detailed look at the website reveals a variable durometer, where users can identify soft spots, hard spots and everything in between on their sole. These design tools allow you to do that quickly and reliably. People want yield rates out of their production machinery that are in line with what they have experienced.
Technologies like open-loop steppers, belts, and other applications are fine for the commercial marketplace, but not when people are trying to address production applications. So, utilizing mechanical and electrical software integration from the factory floor has become a growing trend.
All of this comes with an up-front acquisition cost as well as the operating costs, and we have worked to address those issues. For example, our original 1 meter x 1 meter x .5 meter platform has a purchase price under $30,000. Using an analogy, when you buy a vehicle, you still have to afford the gas and maintenance. These operating costs are a huge driver.
Let’s say that I’m making my next GEN motorcycle and I want to get validation from the marketplace regarding my design concepts on the gas tank. In the open world market the material cost would be approximately $500. In the closed market environment it is a factor of 10 higher than that. So, if you are only printing one gas tank a week, 50 weeks a year, that cost is near a quarter million dollars versus a mid-$20,000. I highlight this to show how this is an important driver, and must be addressed in order for industries to broadly adopt these technologies.