7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a 3D Printing Technology and Material

Additive metals, laser sintering, extruded filament, powdered plastics, alloys, photopolymers – the list goes on and on. Today there are a plethora of 3D printing processes and materials to choose from and it’s only growing. The dynamic additive manufacturing market is often difficult to navigate, especially if you’re still learning about the processes. At Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, our project and applications engineers try to learn as much as they can about customer’s part application to accurately guide them to the best technology and materials. 
3D printing

To help you start to filter out certain processes and materials, we put together a selection methodology:

Application – What is the purpose of the end product? You may need to build a small volume of complex end-use parts which would require strong materials, dimensional accuracy and repeatability. Whereas a sacrificial investment casting pattern is one-time use and needs to burnout clean.

Function – What does the part need to do? It may just serve aesthetic purposes in which it just needs to look and feel like an end-use part. Or perhaps you have a hard-working part that needs to hinge, snap, or bear a load which requires an accurate process and stronger materials.

Stability – Where does the part need to function? For example, holding up and maintaining strength in high temperatures rules out a lot of processes and materials. Does it need to function outdoors? In that case you would need a UV-stable material. Will the part interact with the human body? Then your application requires a biocompatible material.

Durability – How long does the part need to last? Consider the number of use cycles and the application duration. For example, a mold or tool may need to go through hundreds of cycles and prolonged friction, but may only need to last a week for prototyping. Some 3D printing materials are very functional over a short period of time and others can maintain mechanical properties for years.

Aesthetics – How does the part need to look and feel? Photopolymer processes, such Stereolithography (SL) and PolyJet, can produce smooth parts right off of the machine, but aren’t the most stable and durable materials. While thermoplastic and powdered plastic processes like Laser Sintering (LS) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) can create stronger and more durable parts, they often require finishing processes to achieve a smooth surface.

Economics – What is your budget and timeline? If you have a set budget and need to get a part for X amount, then your decision will weigh on price more than value. Time and quality can often contradict one another as well – if you need a quick-turnaround, it may be at the expense of a certain level of quality. However we have found ways to reduce lead time and cost without sacrificing quality, including batching, nesting, scaling, sectioning, shelling, ID-Light builds and adjusting orientation to reduce material consumption.

Priorities – What is the most important decision-making factor? Consider the primary objective and ultimate project goals. Often there are multiple, but your main priorities should drive your decision tree and filter the 3D printing technology and material options.

Here are some examples of how we have put this methodology to use with our customers:

Archie Handheld Studios

investment casting patterns

Application:        Investment cast metal trophy
Function:            Burned out pattern
Stability:             The pattern needed to hold shape and be water-tight
Durability:           One-time use
Aesthetics:         The pattern had to be completely smooth for the casting process
Economics:        Cost wasn’t a concern, but there was a short three week timeline
Priorities:            Surface finish and speed
Selection:           Stereolithography Investment Casting Pattern out of SC 1000

Read the full story.


NASA JPL Satellite Parts


Application:        Satellite antenna array
Function:            Holds radio antenna wires
Stability:             Exposure to extreme temperatures in outer space, and pressure and vibration on the space shuttle
Durability:           Indefinite lifespan
Aesthetics:         The parts had to be compatible with a protective paint
Economics:        The customer reduced lead time by consolidating multiple assemblies into one part design
Priority:               Stability
Selection:           Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and ULTEM™ 9085 resin

Read the full story.

Choosing the right additive manufacturing technology and material for your application is critical to part performance and results. The main thing to remember is “one-size-fits-all” doesn’t apply to additive manufacturing. It’s imperative to know the pros and cons of each process and material or partner with an expert who does. Asking yourself these qualifying questions will help you start to navigate the dynamic market.

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