3D Printing is revolutionising the manufacturing industry. It is called as a disrupter and experts predict rapid and inevitable adoption of the technology but still it is quite difficult for decision makers to make a buying decision. Managers don’t know the major factors to consider when buying a 3D printer and thus end up making bad buying choices.
The wide range of 3D printer options only ads to the conundrum of making the right choice. Not every 3D printer is suitable for each and every user. 3D printing is a broad term under which many technologies have emerged to cater to specific applications. An industrial prototyping 3D printer is not suitable for dental applications and vice versa.
So, by collaborating with experts from the industry, we have curated a list of the major factors to consider when buying a 3D printer. These can help you in buying the most suitable 3D printer for your need.
Important Factors to Consider when Buying a 3D Printer
|Sr. No.||Technology||Major Applications||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|1||FDM||Industrial Prototyping (Form &|
Fitment testing, Dimensional
Testing), Concept Models, POC,
technology, Strong parts
|Rough surface finish,|
|2||SLA/DLP||Jewellery Models, Dental Models,|
Surgical Guides, Aesthetical
products, Gifting Items
|High Precision Printing,|
High Resolution, Smooth
|Limited range of|
is required, Support
|3||SLS||Form and Fitment testing, complex parts like intake manifold, automotive parts, prosthetics||No support structures required, high chemical and heat resistance||Accuracy dependent|
on particle size,
rough surface finish
|4||DMLS/SLM||Industrial Prototyping End-use|
parts for non-critical products
|Good material properties,|
closely resembles the
suitable for large
|5||Binder Jetting||Complex geometries, prosthetics||Low price, fast printing|
speeds, available in full
surface finish, Low
The most important factor to consider when buying a 3D printer is to ask yourself the core application of 3D printing for your purpose. Is it for hobby purpose, household use, industrial prototyping, specialised applications of 3D printing like jewellery, dental, or gifting? A lot will depend on this factor. Different technologies are suitable for different type of applications and choosing the perfect printer for your application will go a long way in having a successful 3D printing experience.
Material compatibility is also an important factor to consider when buying a 3D printer. If your 3D printed output is to be used for a specific application then the part has to be 3D printed in the most appropriate technology. The material must possess the needed properties to perform as per the designed specifications.
For example, material properties as displayed by nylon from an SLS technology are far apart from what yon from FDM technology displays.
So, choosing the technology which offers printing in materials similar to your application will be the best option.
Build volume is simply the printing space. The printer should be selected keeping in mind the most common size to be printed. Just buying a large printer to accommodate all sizes of print is not a viable option. The printer cost increases and it may hamper the quality offered for smaller delicate prints. Large prints can even be outsourced if they are required fewer numbers.
For example, SLA/DLP printers are quite small compared to other build volumes. Buying an SLA printer just on the basis of its high quality finish, will not be helpful when larger prints are required. A bigger sized FDM or SLS printer can print a slightly coarse part and it can be post-processed to achieve a fine finish. The appropriate trade-off has to be achieved while making such decisions.
Material Availability & Cost
The material library for almost all 3D printing technologies is increasing day-by-day. But still the material properties are not similar for every technology. So, carefully analysing the type of parts you have to 3D print in the future with your 3D printer and the material required for that will help you in understanding which technology offers the best material for your application.
Most of the FDM filaments are easily available across the world at reasonable prices but special materials like flame retardant polymers or metallic materials are not easily available and may take a significant amount of time to be imported increasing the lead time and the cost of such materials.
Material cost is another factor to consider while buying a 3D printer which can increase the cost of the prototyping exercise. Powdered materials used in DMLS/SLM technologies are costly and for some industries it may not be justified to use metal 3D printing as the material cost is higher. Powdered material also has a limited shelf life, the unused powder cannot be reused once it has passed through 4-5 printing cycles.
Resolution has a direct effect on the printing of tiny features and finishing of the printed object. A printer with high resolution will easily print tiniest of features and the layer height will be thinner leading to a smooth surface finish. Buying a 3D printer with a high resolution can prove highly beneficial in the long run.
SLA/DLP printers have the finest resolution of around 20 microns, whereas SLS has around 60 microns and FDM has 100 microns.
(Note: The resolution specifications will change over time as technology is undergoing continuous research)
Additional Factors to Consider when Buying a 3D Printer
Single Colour or Full-Colour
This may not be the most compelling factor to consider while buying a 3D but it can prove helpful if you are into printing of 3D selfies, characters, figurines, or gifting items. This can help eliminate the colouring process if your final products demand such a post-processing work.
Proprietary Slicing Software
Most of the established 3D printer manufacturers also provide their own slicing software. The advantage is that these software are fully compatible with their 3D printer and as a result you always get good printing results.
Without proprietary software you have to depend on free slicing software, which are no doubt good, but are not calibrated to suit your specific 3D printer. 3D Printer brands like Ultimaker, MakerBot, Formlabs and many other brands also offer their software suite along with their 3D printers.
Buying a 3D printer is a tough ask especially for people who are new to 3D printing and many of the times people end up owning the wrong type of 3D printer for their application.
When you select a 3D printer from an established brand, you are more likely to get what you wished for, but it will cost you considerably higher than lesser know brands. If you want to explore affordable options, then the printer output might not be what you expected.
The catch-22 situation is real and makes a decision maker delay to scrap his idea to buy a 3D printer, but rest assured with this above guideline, you have a systematic approach the factors to consider when buying a 3D printer.
(Note: Some of the specifications mentioned in the article are subject to change as the 3D printing technology is undergoing continuous research)
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