How To Buy a 3D Printer
This is the most comprehensive guide on How to Buy a 3D Printer .
The decision to buy a 3D printer should be based on four major considerations:
- Technology consideration
- Attributes Consideration
- Application Area Consideration, &
- Cost Consideration
Let us understand each of the considerations one by one.
A large number of additive processes are now available. The main differences between processes are in the way layers are deposited to create parts and in the materials that are used.
Some methods melt of soften the material to produce the layers. Some examples are :
- Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
- Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
Some other methods cure liquid materials using different sophisticated technologies such as stereo-lithography (SLA).
“Different types of 3D printers function on a different technology that uses different materials in different ways. One of the most basic limitations of 3D printing in terms of materials and applications is that, there is no one solution that fits all,” says Karan Sangani, business development manager, MaherSoft.
Selection of the right 3D printer depends on the application requirements and matching the key performance criteria that will provide the best all-around value. Here are some 3D printer attributes to consider when comparing various 3D printers.
Right from the prototyping stage, it is critical to print full size parts to test the product in real conditions, so the build volume (size) is the key. The largest build volume is available in SLA technology.
Speed vs Quality
There is a trade-off between print speed and print quality.The quality of your print (product) depends on the size of the layers you use, but is also depends on the precision of the extruder (nozzle head). Heated build plate and precise nozzle alignment of the machine ensure high print quality. Printers with low layer thickness settings may take longer to produce a final print, but these generally produce a smoother finish. The best printers offer a wide range of quality settings, from fast (but low quality) to slow (but high quality).
Size of Filament
All 3D printers have a unique set of temperature, speed, and functional ranges in their respective designs, which you should review and consider when selecting filament. Most commonly used printing filaments are ABS, PLA, HIPS and PVA available in, generally, 1.75 mm and 3 mm diameter.
Availability of Support
While buying a 3D printer, look for long periods of warranty. Most 3D printers, especially those that come from big-name manufacturers, offer some type of specialized support. You can typically contact these companies for ‘live’ help and support over phone, through email or live chat on their websites.
Sangani mentions, “Most of the buyers make their decision of buying a 3D printer based on cost. We highly recommend buyers to make their decision based on print quality and service support from the manufacturer.”
Frahan Shaikh, founder, Mattermatic, says, “The prime time and quality can vary due to factors like layers and print speed. Fine print quality requires more layers in an object but it also increases the printing time.”
Application Area Consideration
Your selection of the printer has to be based on the use you want to put it to. A printer useful for one type of application may not be useful for another type. See if the printer you are considering is for one of the following applications:
- Automotive : To build tooling, jigs and fixtures from high-performance engineering thermoplastics using FDM technology.
- Construction : Super-size printers use special concrete and composite mixture that is thicker than regular concrete.
- Space and Defence : To print spare parts for planes or satellites using FDM technology.
- Healthcare : For implants and prosthetics, surgical guides, hearing aids and tissue engineering etc.
- Computers : To make cases for laptops and other computers
- Apparel : For clothing, consumer grade eyewear, etc.
- Mass customization : To customize 3D printed unique objects using simplified web based customization software.
- Rapid manufacture : SLS and DMLS processes are enabling better rapid prototyping methods
- Rapid prototyping : Rapid prototyping for research purposes using powdered metals, casting media, plastics, paper or cartridges.
- Film & Animation : For visual mock-ups, photo/film shorts and master patterns for moulding; ready for chrome and copper plating, PU finish, investment casting, etc.
- Trophies : Complex trophies can be made quickly with a surface finish that requires little or no hand finishing
- Gifts : You can 3D print your child a toy, yourself a smartphone case, or your loved ones jewellery or chocolate/candies
- Medicines : To produce your own medicine or household chemicals
Not all 3D printers come assembled; some of these come in DIY kits form, like the Makeblock Constructor 3D printer. This often results in price savings as the manufacturer does not need to assemble, calibrate and test the machine.
The main considerations in choosing a 3D printer are generally speed and cost. For the printed prototype, choice and cost of the materials, and colour capabilities are important.
Right now, the least expensive 3D printers are those using FDM technology. Entry-level printers cost Rs.20,000 to Rs. 80,000.These use standard filament, can print cone colour/material at a time, and have small build size. Most FDM printers use only PLA and/or ANS material.
Better printers cost Rs.60,000 onwards. Some of these can print two colours/materials at a time; they usually print at finer resolution to get smoother surfaces. Moreover, the build size is larger, so you can print larger objects.
If you are good with your hands and tools you can may build a printer kit and assemble the printer by yourself. Prices of kits start at Rs.6,000 and go up to a few thousands.
Most expensive printers use SLA (stereo-lithography) or SLS (selective laser sintering) technologies. SLA printers use a laser or digital projector and photosensitive resins.
Prices, of course, depend on materials’ cost, in-fill, size of the item to be printed and many other factors. Both proprietary and generic brand filaments are available in many different sizes and colors. If you wish to save money in the long run, a printer that accepts generic or cheap filament can help cut down the long-term costs.