We've put together a video of some of the 3D Printing production projects that we have worked on over the last few months on the Slant 3D printer farm.. Our clients have come to us with everything from robots to chess pieces. We are literally producing parts at the same rate as any other process, without the cost of tooling and setup of traditional manufacturing.
Imagine what you could create if you could create and distribute a physical product as easily as a digital one.
3D Printing is an incredible resource for small companies and entrepreneurs. It allows you to start with an idea, create a prototype, and increase products from 1 unit, to 10, to 100, to 1000, to 20000, all without ever putting out the capital traditionally needed to produce a hardware product for setup and tooling like injection molds.
3D Printing also lets companies change a product immediately, simply by changing a 3D design file. Immediately every part created afterwards has that update. Again without having to go through the challenge of changing tooling.
Production 3D Printing literally makes it possible to create, launch, and scale hardware products as easily as software products. And we want to demonstrate this.
Over the next few months Slant 3D and Slant Concepts will be launching a new product nearly every week. Some will be launched on Kickstarter and others on the SlantStore (more on that later). Each product will be unique and will attempt to demonstrate how 3D printing manufacturing makes the product better than any other manufacturing process would.
The first product, which is launching this Friday on Kickstarter, are the Buggles. The Buggles are a disposable biodegradable Flytrap. They are meant to be a discreet and simple way of fixing the fly fly issues all of us are experiencing this summer at Picnics and in our homes.
3D Printing is not a very good personal technology. But it is an incredibly useful manufacturing technology. Because it lets a kid with a laptop create and scale a company, around a physical product, as easily as that kid could around a software product. 3D Printing is not slow or expensive, when it is used in production. Please join us this summer as we prove this again and again.
3D Printing is becoming a common method for producing parts and toys by small independent creators all over the world. These people often maintain several printers in their home or shop in order to make the products that they have created.
But if you are just starting out or trying to grow, the time and expense of your own personal 3D printers can make them prohibitive. Personal printers often cost $500-$3000 which, for a small cottage business is a high startup cost.
But with production 3D printing you can just upload you models and have your manufacturer hold them in digital inventory. That is, there is a onetime preparation fee, and then the part is ready to be printed forever. When an order comes in it is pushed to the manufacturer who will access the digital file and print the design.
And since companies like Slant 3D support dropshipping you can enter into a monthly plan where you pay a flat fee for each shipment and have Slant 3D print and ship the part only when it is ordered. This means you can create a business for basically zero upfront cost, and only pay the cost of manufacturing on a per-part basis. It is a lot like posting an app to the Appstore. You just create a digital design and it is copied when the design is ordered.
An Alternative method to operating on a small scale is to order inventory in small quantities for you to hold and then ship, like a traditional retailer. Again the design would be held in "digital inventory" by Slant 3D, and when you need 10-100 pieces for your stock you just send a message and the pieces will be printed and shipped to you within a few days.
And whenever you want to grow you business or add new products, you basically just send an e-mail. No more affording, maintaining, and operating your own printers. Just design great products without having to pay for them until they sell.
Use 3D printing to vary the density of production plastic parts.
Most 3D printed parts have the option of varying their percentage of infill. Infill is the honeycomb-like patter inside of an FDM printed part which helps to reduce material used while still creating a structurally sound part. But this infill has another advantage. It allows a part to be created with basically any weight needed (up to the solid density of material) without changing its dimensions. This means that 3D printed parts can emulate the density of other materials like various types of wood.
We recently had a project where this was a great resource. Our client had a prototype of several pieces of their product. The pieces were created to interact with each other in a particular way based on weight. Their prototypes had met their needs, but they were made out of wood. Going into production with any process the client needed a means to match the weight of the wooden prototypes. This was only possible with 3D printing.
Slant 3D was able to create a part with the same overal dimensions of the wooden prototype and then vary the infill density until the production part weighed exactly the same as the wooden piece. This isn't possible with injection molding. The client was elated.
The control of density that 3D printing allows is an incredible advantage of the technology. It allows the possibility of created pieces with the density varying throughout to create parts like self-righting chess pieces. Or one can create parts with high or low densities that they sink or float with the same volume. Nothing else can do that.
3D Printing is an ideal means of manufacturing custom electrical enclosures.
We have worked with many industrial clients that have utilized our large format 3D printing capacity to produce electrical enclosures. The reason they prefer 3D printing is to traditional machining is primarily based on cost.
The additive nature of 3D printing reduces the amount of material needed to create an enclosure when compared to subtractive machining. After all a delrin block is far more expensive than a kilogram of ABS. Injection molding is not an option because with larger enclosures, greater than 12 inches cubed, the cost of the mold is very prohibitive. Not to mention the time to have just 10-20 enclosures produced is too long. But 3D printing can produce the pieces in 1-2 weeks.
But as is the problem with most items submitted for 3D printing, the engineer of the enclosure does not design for 3D printing. They take a traditional enclosure and expect 3D printing to create a result that is identical to other processes. It will not be. So we wanted to compile some tips for designing electrical enclosures.
Design a Foundation Layer
When printing any part a decision must be made about what side of the part will be against the print bed. Traditionally this will be the largest single flat surface. This is used to have maximum bed adhesion which limits warping and failure of parts. Generally this side is the back or bottom of the enclosure that might be mounted against a wall.
Ideally this side should have no complex features such as text. Just holes. If there is text, they it can become unreadable as the first layer is often "squashed" in order to help with adhesion.
When designing your enclosure try to create a large simple side which can serve as the foundation
If all side of an enclosure require critical details there are multiple solutions.
Printing the part with the open face down will require a longer set-up period. This orientation is difficult tp print reliably. It also requires that the enclosure be printed with support material throughout. This results in a rough interior texture and more expense, due to the support material. There is also the risk of any interior bosses or features losing detail because they printed on support material. You can see a comparison of sections of the same part printed open side down and up in the photos below.
Infill or Ribs
When a part is 3D printed there is the ability to either create a solid piece or reduce the density of thick areas of the part by using internal lattices. This "infill" reduces print time and material used and is highly recommended.
The infill makes the part behave like a sandwiched composite. So even though it uses less material it is structurally very strong at low infill percentages of less than 50%.
However if more structure is required we recommend adding ribs. These are simple to print and provide a large amount of strength. Using ribs with thin walled enclosures are ideal as they result in even less material used than infill and better control the structure of the enclosure.
Since electrical enclosures are generally purely functional, they are often printed at the lowest resolution possible. The layering is visible, but it reduces lead time and has not structural downside.
If a more refined surface is necessary the layering can be be made to nearly disappear with high resolution printing. The downside is that the printing time per part can go up as much as 300%. And the smooth surface can only be created on straight vertical surfaces. Any sort of incline or vertical curve will make the layering more visible. All of this is well defined in the part below, where it was printed with high resolution.
Reduce Rims and Overhangs
It is very common to create a rim around the top of an enclosure or case. This improves rigidity for a lid or for ejection from a mold. These rims often protrude some distance horizontally from the part with little filleting below them. This is done to reduce material used, but that is unnecessary for 3D printing (infill eliminates excess material from thick areas).
These rims in fact increase the cost and difficulty in manufacturing the part with 3D printing, because they must be supported. In the case of the part above an entire secondary structure of support material from the base of the case to the rim must be built simply to support the rim in the last 0.25 inches of the part. This adds a great amount of print time and material, therefore increasing the cost of the part.
The way to avoid this is simple to add a chamfer of fillet underneath the rim, so that it seems to gradually protrude from the case as it is grown layer by layer. Examples of this filleting are shown below.
In this particular case, the enclosure actually has an overhang angle of 90 degrees, thus requiring support. If a 45 degree chamber was adding it would greatly reduce the cost of the part.
Hopefully these pointers will help you when working on your next enclosure. When working with Slant 3D one of our engineers is always available to help you through the process. And when you submit a design for quotation we will always be willing to make recommendations in order to reduce cost.
3D Printing is a very viable manufacturing option for electrical enclosures. But to use the process effectively you must design for it. Pressing an part designed for injection molding into a 3D printer will never created an injection molded part. Better to design a part for 3D printing.