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Ask a 3D Printing Expert: Which 3D Printer is Best for My Business?

July 20, 2023 News

“Which 3D printer is best for my business?”

Admittedly, this is a bit of a loaded question. With multiple 3D printing technologies, brands, and models on the market, how do you even begin to figure out which is best for your business when looking to add additive technologies? The short and simple answer: the one you have. Direct access to a 3D printer in house is the most versatile and valuable way to utilize the technology. While that answer is probably dissatisfying, don’t worry. We will go through a little more useful answer.

Before you begin your additive journey, there are a few things you need to consider. First, figure out which problem(s) you’re looking to solve. The best printer for you will depend on what it is you want to accomplish. Are you looking to shorten your design cycle with rapid iterations of prototypes or improve your manufacturing process with customized tooling for the production floor? Maybe you have a great idea for a product, but traditional manufacturing processes are either too complicated or impossible. Or perhaps you’re an educator looking for innovative ways to train your students. Knowing your goal is the first step.

Next you can search for articles and guides, such as this one, to get familiar with the market space, or better yet, engage an expert consultant. If you’re lucky enough to live in the upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Nebraska, AdvancedTek has a great team of experts that can help guide you through the weeds. If not, I highly recommend finding someone who lives and breathes additive technology to guide you, as they will have a profound understanding of the market capabilities.

Finally, know that you aren’t going to find the perfect printer. This is where your first step comes into play – knowing what you want to accomplish. Figure out the different needs you are looking to fulfill and how much of your capacity that need consumes. Think of this as your additive strategy. You want to work toward understanding which printers are suited for each of your needs, so you can develop a larger picture of what tools you might employ. Most of the time we can narrow it down to one or two printers that cover about 80% or more of your identified needs, but your business will benefit from having a larger vision or strategy for future growth. You can always outsource those parts that your in-house printer doesn’t do well.

With or without help, your first task is to determine which additive technology best suits your most immediate needs. A broad categorization of technologies should include filament-based printers, powder-based printers, and resin-based printers. There are several branches under each, but this high-level categorization should help you get started.

Filament-based printers, such as Stratasys FDM printers, extrude a thermoplastic filament to build your part. These printers are easy to use, are clean and simple, and produce durable parts for prototypes and manufacturing tools. Figuring out the right printer for you will involve understanding your needs for part size, material properties, accuracy, and reliability. There are many brands and models, but the ease of use, reliability, and ability to print different materials vary greatly between each.

Stratasys FDM 3D printers

Resin-based printers include light projection such as the Stratasys Origin One, UV-laser curing (stereolithography) such as Stratasys Neo, and material jetting such as Stratasys PolyJet. The common thread through these technologies is surface finish. Curing resin can lead to relatively high-quality surfaces that are difficult to achieve with filament or powder systems. Most resins won’t have quite the same thermal and chemical resistance or mechanical properties as a thermoplastic like the filament and powder systems can produce, but there are some good and useful resins available, depending on your needs. PolyJet technology is a little unique in this space, since it can use more than one material at a time, allowing you to print parts in full color with transparency and elastomeric capabilities.

Stratasys Neo, Origin, and PolyJet 3D printers

Powder-based printers are typically subdivided into sintering printers (SLS) and powder-bed fusion printers, such as the Stratasys SAF technology. By far the most common polymer material in this technology is nylon (PA12). Sintering technologies have more material choices available, both in polymers and metal printing, but they don’t have the same throughput as the fusion technologies. These technologies, such as SAF, are designed primarily for manufacturing parts, focusing on high part production rates. They are a great fit for parts where you need more than a few but not enough to justify injection molding them.

Stratasys H350 SAF 3D printer

I’m sure you’re aware by now that even if this article were expanded into a tome, the question of which is the best 3D printer cannot be addressed. AdvancedTek can assist you with determining the most suitable 3D printer for your current needs. However, narrowing it down will require an understanding of your business and individual needs which will require dialogue. So, if you take anything away from this brief overview, remember these two points:

  1. It is in your best interest to engage with a consultant to assess your needs and match you with the most appropriate technology, and
  2. Opting for an additive strategy instead of hastily choosing a printer to meet immediate demands will yield greater impact and reduce frustration in the long run.

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Meet Jesse Hanssen

Jesse’s journey into additive manufacturing began in 2006 as an end user of a Stratasys Titan FDM system. Since then, he honed his industry expertise as an application engineer and product manager at Stratasys before transitioning to his current position in business development at AdvancedTek.  Jesse’s greatest joy lies in witnessing how an in-house printer can positively transform his customers’ workflows. He efficiently combines his technical engineering background and his business acumen from his MBA to effectively bridge the gap and provide valuable solutions to those he serves.

Outside of work, Jesse enjoys camping and fishing with his family. He and his wife have six children who take up most of their free time. Jesse is involved in spreading his faith and love of the outdoors with youth through Trail Life USA, where he is Chaplain for the troop and a trail guide for elementary-aged students.

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Posted by Heather Adams