3D printing is a technology of forming three-dimensional objects one layer at a time. This technology has been around for quite some time now, dating back to the early 1980s. Unlike other forms of CNC based forms of manufacturing, 3D printing is additive. What this means is that in ideal cases no material is wasted, all the material used goes into forming the object itself on the printer. For this reason, the technology has been adopted by various firms for product development and research.
However, it wasn’t until recently that this technology got opened to the consumer market with the emergence of a couple of new consumer 3D printer companies. Currently, there is a larger variety of consumer 3D printer options to choose from even as compared to Professional 3D printers. This shows how the consumer 3D printer market is growing, it is therefore not surprising that in 2013 Stratasys, a company that focused on making industrial 3D printers acquired Makerbot which manufactures 3D printers for the consumer market.
For some reason which will later be discussed, consumer 3D printers are still not as reliable as the industrial 3D printers that have stood the test of time. Let us dive right into comparing these two.
ENCLOSED BUILD CHAMBER
3D printing can be a very delicate and complicated manufacturing process. An enclosed and controlled environment is required around the object being formed in order to prevent warping and achieve optimum print quality. Objects are formed by depositing the material in a precise location one layer at a time hence lower layers cool faster than upper ones.
Without an enclosed build chamber this can result in uneven forces within the model which may lead to bending and print failures. Almost all professional 3D printers have an enclosed build chamber and so warping and related print failures are very minimal. This is not the case for consumer 3D printers, most of them lack an enclosed build volume and the absence of it is almost standard.
The build volume of a 3D printer is basically the largest cuboid it can print. Generally, professional 3D printers have bigger build volumes than their consumer counterpart. The professional 3D printers used at Quick 3D Printing all have build volumes more than 10 inches cube. This big volume makes is ideal for prototyping and product development with very minimal size limitations. According to M.D. Chris of Quick 3D Printing, they are able to print multiples of large models in ABS at a go thanks to the large build volume of the professional 3D printers they use.
For a 3D printer, the resolution is the minimum thickness of the build layer. The lower this value the better, for consumer 3D printers this value is 100 micron. A micron equals 0.001mm. Most professional 3D printers can print layers as thin as 20 microns. This level of resolution combined with a rigid construction makes models printed on consumer 3D printers feel inferior.
The main downside of 3D printing is the time it takes to print a model. Manufacturing processes like injection moulding can very rapid as compared to 3D printing. However, because of the tooling and expensive moulds required for every iteration of a design, it is not an ideal choice for prototyping and product development.
Professional 3D printers do not disappoint in this category either. Producing high-resolution models at speeds above 60 millimetres per second is something that most consumer 3D printers still struggle with today.
One main thing that set professional 3D printers from consumer 3D printers is the price point. Prices can range between $20,000 and $100,000 while consumer 3D printers are hitting lows of $300 thanks to recent 3D printer Kickstarter campaign boom. Professional 3D printers are expensive for a reason thus they are solidly built. They feature a premium mechanical design with most components made from steel, aluminium, and even high-quality plastics. This greatly improves print quality and make them very reliable. For instance, the Stratasys Dimension printers used by 3D Printing service providers like ourselves feature a rigid metal construction under the aesthetically pleasing exterior design.
The ability to print water-soluble support materials and more robust software platform for preparing models for printing are other reasons why anyone who seeks to do serious product development or prototyping should consider professional 3D printers or seek the service of companies such a 3D Quick Printing who use these professional machines to render their services. Consumer 3D printing may be improved or even perfected to the level of professional 3D printers but until then it remains inferior to the professional 3D printers.