The layer lines from the creation of a 3D part are often considered to be a bad feature of large scale additive manufacturing. But how bad are they and what are some solutions that make 3D Printed parts better than injection molded.
When part is made with high volume production 3D Printing, it is composed of individual layers. Much like the coil pots made from the playdough snakes that you created in kindergarten, only 1000 times smaller (5-30 microns).
Depending on the resolution a part is printed at (generally low resolution for functional pieces and high resolution for cosmetic pieces) the layers can be more or less pronounced. But unavoidably the virgin surface of even a very high resolution part will have a "linearity" to it that is unavoidable even if the layer lines are not individually visible. And the only way to eliminate the layer texture entirely is to post process the part somehow. Either through painting or sanding.
But is that surface finish really a bad thing. Photos below show some average cosmetic and engineering parts made with production FDM 3D Printing.
Why is the Linear Texture Bad?
Let us ask this question. Why are molded parts smooth? Because it is better looking? Actually no. Molds are smooth because they have to be. Did you know that an injection molded part can't really have a texture without incurring huge expenses and design changes.
It is exceptionally difficult to apply a texture to molded or machined parts. Because it adds so much complexity to a part. Whereas smooth surfaces are very easy to create and produce.
Smooth parts are a result of limited engineering. Not of actual design. We like smooth parts because we have always had smooth parts. Not because we chose to have parts with a smooth surface finish.
But 3D Printed parts are not so limited. Textures can be applied for free.
3D Printing Creates Textures for Free
Since 3D Printing is designed to grow a part slowly it is able to give that part any sort of feature or surface finish that is desired by the client. This means that textures are not some secondary process that must be done later. A texture can be designed in CAD and then literally printed with the part.
Below is an example of our Texture Cube and Sample Brick. With or without the complex textures on the surface, these parts cost the same to manufacture. That is not the case with traditional methods. And 3D printing can apply any texture you want. From fuzz to diamonds.
These textures have a huge number of applications. They make it possible to print grips onto handles. Create a toy with a truly unique look and feel. Or at the most basic level, hide the layer line of the 3D print so that it is more affordable to manufacture
With production 3D Printing you have the equivalent of grain in wood. Only you control the direction and look of the grain.
Hiding the Layer Lines with Textures
The Textures perform a very simple function outside of the purely functional. They help on the asthetic side to hide the layer lines.
A texture on a 3D Printed part can be applied to overwhelm the appearance of the the layer lines. This is very evident in the Red Texture cube above. It is impossible to tell the 3D Printed part from an injection molded part.
Below are a few parts where the surface of the part was roughened so that the layer lines would be hidden and the surface of the solver part would sparkle.
Hiding the Layer Lines with Material
If a texture of any sort is out of the question. Then there is another option. Create the illusion that the linear texture is not present.
The reason layer lines are so visible in 3D Printed parts is because the parts are often monochromatic. So each layer catches and reflects the light, highlighting the layer on the single color part.
This problem can be addressed by using a material with particulates added that either roughen it or add specks through the color. This breaks up the appearance of the part and the layer lines are not visible.
A good example is shown below with marble-colored filament. The finished part actually looks and feels like stone, even though it was made with 3D printing at a relatively low resolution (larger than normal layer lines)
Lean into the Layer Lines
All of this comes to the point where layer lines are just a part of the process. Just like smoothness is just a part of injection molding. Neither is bad or good. It is just a part of the process. And as part of the process you can use it as a strength rather than as something to hide.
The Layer lines in 3D Printing are line the grain in wood. It is random and can look messy. Until someone with skill figures out how to turn that wood into a beautiful table. Designers can do the same with 3D Printed layer lines. And actually do so makes them more like wood than many people think.
Above is a part that was printed with wood-filled PLA filament, at a relatively low resolution. But the layer lines add to the model. They actually give the wooden piece a grain. So that is looks like it was carved from a solid piece of tree trunk. That is practically impossible to achieve with other processes.
But the designer found a way to use the layer lines of 3D Printing as an advantage.
The Layer lines of 3D printed parts are often considered a problem. But they don't have to be. There are many ways of eliminating or hiding the layer lines of mass produced 3D printed parts.
But good designers will recognize them as simple a feature of the process. A feature that can be exploited to create products that were never possible before.
Need Help Getting your Product Manufactured? Submit a Model for a Free Quote.
High volume 3D Printing is production of more than 1,000 3D Printed parts as an alternative to injection molding.
The Benefits of High Volume 3D Printing
No Up Front Costs, Flexible Design, and Flexible Supply.
The Largest Benefit of production 3D Printing is that elimination of molding costs. 3D Printing does not require a mold. So all of that up front cost disappears
At low volumes 3D Printing can be expensive per part, but when you move past 1000, that added cost is negligible.
3D Printing is also a perfectly on-demand process. So you do not have to order 10,000's of parts and then warehouse them for months with the risk of none of them selling. You order what you need when you need it and it is produced then. No more, no less. In fact, at Slant 3D we support on-demand manufacturing. So a Part is made and shipped only when it is ordered.
The combination of those factors allow companies to test, iterate, and scale much faster than with molding. With Production 3D Printing if a design needs to be changed all that has to change is the CAD file. Then every part made after is updated. This is just like changing the color of your website. Companies can now iterate and test in production on products.
How it is Done
3D Printer Farm
At Slant 3D we deploy hundreds of FDM 3D Printers that run 24/7 making parts. With this process each individual part can take quite a bit of time to make. It might take an hour to make a part. But if 100 machines are making that part, we are now producing at 100 parts an hour and 2400 parts per day.
This type of system is called a 3D Printer Farm. Currently Slant 3D operates the largest commercial FDM 3D Printing farm in the US.
High Speed 3D Printing
With this process manufacturers use large single machines that are very fast.
For example Carbon 3D uses a Light-Resin technology to produce parts very quickly. So instead of a part requiring hours it can be done in minutes. This replaces the hundreds of machines with just a few machines. But if a machine breaks down then all of production stops.
HP Multijet Fusion is another high speed machine. But it is best optimized by producing hundreds of small parts in a single batch. Because the machine has to be stopped and the bins with the parts removed each time. With all other processes the part removal is much faster.
Where to Have it Done
High volume 3D Printing is not a common resource but there are a number of companies that can product 1000's of part for you in a number of different specs
Carbon 3D - SLA
Carbon will connect you with its production partners that can produce high resolution resin 3D Prints.
Slant 3D - FDM
Slant 3D Operates one of the largest 3D Printing Farms in the world. You can submit a design directly to them and they quote you within 1-2 days.
Forecast 3D - MJF
Forecast 3D is one of the original HP partners on MJF. They are experienced and able to produce large quantities of small parts very readily.
There are literally hundreds of 3D Printing companies out there. But who does what. Here are several of the most popular 3D Printing service companies for your next prototype or production project.
Carbon 3D - Resin-Based 3D Printing
For very intricate parts that require a smooth surface finish.
Carbon 3D manufactures high speed SLA 3D Printers using thier Carbon CLIP technology. These printers are used to create dentures, Bicycle seats, and even a line of shoes for Adidas.
The surface finish of SLA parts is very good, comparable to injection molding, but they can be expensive if they are very large or low volume. SLA is also able to handle very fine features well that are impossible with any of the other processes.
Carbon will connect you to services that use their technology. One of the most well known partners is Fast Radius. They have also worked with adidas to manufacture the Alphaedge 4D shoe.
Slant 3D - High Volume 3D Printing
Functional and cost effective alternative to injection molding at scales up to 100,000 pieces
Slant 3D operates one of the largest capacity 3D printer farms in the world. The original facility is able to produce 10,000 parts per week and Slant 3D is about to open an even larger facility with over 800 machines in the printer farm.
Slant 3D uses the FDM 3D Printing process. These parts are robust and excellent for functional products and industrial components. Slant 3D also produces pieces for consumer products and is able to fulfill orders as they are made.
Forecast 3D - Multijet Fusion
Functional parts based in nylon for engineering and functional applications.
Forecast 3D actually utilizes a large number of 3D printing processes. A company that has been in operation since the 90's Forecast was among the first to implement HP Multijet Fusion. Today they operate 24 MJF machines and made more than 1 million parts in the first year.
MJF is a process that creates high surface finish parts that are nearly isotropic. But it is limited to gray/black coloring and is only viable for production on pieces that are smaller.
Shapeways - Laser Sintering
Delicate and fine detail parts from specialty materials
Shapeways is easily one of the oldest 3D printing services. Started in 2007 they have established themselves as an online print on demand platform for designers. Shapeways offers predominantly laser sintering services. Which allows them to create fine detail items ranging from rubber-like plastic to gold.
If you are a jewelry designer or have a small and precise part to make Shapeways is a good option.
Voodoo Manufacturing - FDM
One-off prints to test a part and potentially scale up to 100-1000
Voodoo Manufacturing is another larger FDM printer farm. Utilizing Replicator II Makerbot machines and Formlabs SLA parts Voodoo is able to produce 1-off parts very quickly and quite affordably. Their 3D Printer farm of nearly 150 machines also allows you to scale up production to nearly 1000 parts.
Selection of Suppliers with defined standards and various 3D Printing Processes.
Another old name in the 3D Printing world. 3D Hubs was started as a network of independent garage 3D printers. In 2017-2018 they refocused on industrial 3D Printing.
They now connect customers with 3D printing services that are ISO certified and held to very high standards. They are an excellent resource for finding new suppliers and having prototypes produced that are engineering grade.
Injection Molding has been the primary means of producing large quantities of plastic parts for nearly 100 years. 3D Printing has been a means of prototyping for only about 30 years. But they are beginning to overlap. And there are many reasons that 3D Printing is starting to become a better alternative to injection molding.
The key advantage of production 3D Printing is that it does not require molds. A design can be changed simply by changing a CAD design. This means that companies can produce several versions of the same physical product at scale and test how they sell. This is much how internet companies test different versions of a website to see how they perform.
The ability to iterate without setting a part into stone, allows companies to test products, and make changes based on customer needs. It also allows companies to have many variations of the same product made without extra cost in order to address different customer niches.
3D Printing is able to produce hundreds of thousands of parts at a cost similar to injection molding. But it is also able to produce just a few parts at a price that is much less than injection molding. This means that a company company can make 10 pieces of a product, test market those, and then make 100 pieces. Then a 1000, then 10,000.
3D Printing is very scalable. So a small business can start with small production runs and then scale up to whatever the demand for the product is. This means that no cost is ever wasted. The parts can be made as needed without much need for warehousing or inventory or any kind.
The way most 3D printing printing processes work, especially FDM, there are far fewer constraints on geometry than with molding. Parts can be made thick with a hollow honeycomb interior so that they are stronger than molded parts. Holes can be cut that curve through the parts, again impossible with injection molding.
Something as simple as a solid 2 inch cube is impossible to produce with injection molding. But is simple and very affordable with 3D Printing.
Another large advantage of 3D printing is the precise control of the surface of the part. 3D Printed parts can have a texture applied to them while they are being made. So the texture is basically free to add to the part.
There is a common misconception that 3D Printing is far more expensive than injection molding. This may have been true 5 years ago. But it is no longer.
At Slant 3D we find that on average we can produce up to 20-50,000 parts or more before a mold becomes more economical than 3D printing. This is not only because of the cost of the mold. But the cost of warehousing and wasted product. Generally 10% of the cost of a final product is in the inventory. And often 10-20% of all inventory is just not sold.
Since production 3D Printing allows parts to be made on demand it is possible to produce parts only as needed. So less warehousing is needed and there is never unsold inventory. In some cased Slant 3D will only produce parts for a client once those parts are sold, so there is never any inventory or wasted product.
The fact that production 3D printing is reaching a point where is is simply more efficient to produce parts with than injection molding, and give companies the ability to better address product problems makes is very compelling compared to molding.
There is also the fact that the design freedom of 3D printing allows businesses to address individual niches very affordably. So even though 3D printing can't yet make the Millions of parts that molding can, the necessity for that volume may not be necessary. Why sell 1 million of a single product when you can sell 1000, of 100 different products that each customer would like better.
3D Printing very likely will drive the market away from injection molding. The high up front cost and lack of flexibility will simply become to expensive.
Interested in having your product manufactured with Production 3D Printing. Get a free quote from Slant 3D within 1-2 business day.
Architects and builders have the challenging problem of communicating clearly what an expensive building will look like before it is built. There are no do overs. 3D Modeling has helped this problem a lot. Architects can show photo-realistic images of the building and the layout. But it is still not quite intuitive for people to understand what the actual physical building will look like. 3D Printing models of homes and buildings gives a clear and intuitive representation of what a building will be in a way that photos and drawings just can't communicate.
Coming from the Boise Valley, Slant 3D has a unique perspective on this problem. Real Estate and Building are two primary drivers of the economy locally. So we have been able to develop our capabilities around 3D Printing models of buildings and houses.
Slant 3D produces thousands of 3D printed parts per week as an alternative to injection molding. All that is needed to take advantage of this is a 3D model of a building. Then it can be produced in large quantities for promotion of subdivisions and factory homes. The models can be on an agents desk and be a gift to the buyer when they select a home.
But really the most important part of 3D printed architectural models is the communication. They make the layout and proportions abundantly clear. Humans think in 3D space. We have difficulty interpreting drawings and even walking through VR, because it just doesn't have the context that a 3D physical model does. These 3D printed houses ensure that there is no confusion between the builder, the buyer, or the designer. Buyers can hold the model to know what they will get. And Builders can use the model to communicate to subcontractors what they need.
Would you like to have your architecture models 3D printed. Just submit them through our online quoting form and one of our engineers will be in touch.
Production 3D printing is often considered to be a process limited to rigid materials. But that is just not the case. High Volume 3D Printing farms, such as those operated by Slant 3D, are able to produce thousands of low durometer parts, all without the cost of injection molding, and much more affordably than other additive processes.
Currently Slant 3D is able to 3D print parts in materials with durometers as low as Shore 00 40. This allows us to make objects such as custom 3D printed insoles, and rubber-like toys. And if we move into harder versions of flexible than we can manufacture items like bike helmets and industrial wheels.
The material that is used to achieve this is TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane). This rubber material is ideal for all kinds of flexible applications. It can be engineered to be wear, and heat resistant. And we also produce components with ESD safe properties.
3D Printing Shoes and Insoles
Since TPU is so durable and flexible it is ideal for manufacturing the soles of shoes. Feetz is one company that attempted to bring about 3D printed Shoes. Newcomers such as Zellerfeld are also working on designs for 3D printed shoes.
All over the world people are using TPU 3D printing to create custom insoles. Pes Sem Dor in South America gathers data about customers feet and then produces custom insoles. Slant 3D performs the manufacturing of similar insoles here in the United States for several different clients.
Flexible Industrial Parts
Since TPU creates such compliant 3D printed parts it is often used in the production of industrial components, such as rollers and robot grippers. The parts are then put to use inside of factories moving other products around.
The 3D Printed TPU is able to hold up through thousands of cycles without breaking down and ensures that new parts can be obtained readily without having to find new molders 5 years down the line.
TPU is just another one of the materials that Production FDM 3D Printing is ideally suited to. At Slant 3D we have worked for several years to implement high volume production of parts made with the material. And we have achieved that. We are now able to produce literally thousands of Flexible 3D printed parts per week. This means there is no longer a need for molds or tooling of any kind.
If you would like to get a quote for manufacturing your Flexible Rubber part please submit your design for a quote and one of our engineers will be in contact within 1-2 business days.
Idaho is largely an agricultural and heavy metal manufacturing state. But there is also a good piece of technology located in the state. As as these manufacturers grow they utilize more and more 3D Printing. Here are a few 3D Printing services that operate in the State of Idaho.
Intermountain 3D is a reverse engineering and 3D Printing service company. They are able to 3D scan products or create 3D models from scratch and then turn those models into 3D printed prototypes using the SLA or SLS processes. They can also handle limited production
Started in 2014 Intermountain 3D is also reseller of professional 3D Printers.
Operating one of the largest 3D Printing factories in North America Slant 3D focuses on production of 3D printed parts. With a capacity of over 10,000 parts per week, Slant 3D serves as a more affordable alternative to injection molding.
Slant also maintains a team of engineers to ensure that you can take your product from napkin to production with as few steps as possible. They also support materials ranging from simple bioplastics to ESD safe materials for electronics.
Started by Justin Shook. Shook Ideas is a product design company that has a proven track record of creating, marketing and manufacturing final products with 3D Printing. They utilize the FDM process through a group of Ultimaker 3D printers.
Originally from Portland, RapidMade maintains an office in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. This manufacturing service is able to take a concepts all the way to production with injection molding. They support all types of 3D Printing processes including MJF, polyjet and FDM.
Based in Boise Idaho, 3 Solutions Design provides 3D printing, machinging, and fabrication services. They utilize statysys 3D printers to create good quality prototypes and can transfer designs over to other processes as well.
The EU has announced new laws that will require that appliances be cheaper to repair than replace for up to 10 years.
The Ecodesign Directive requires that manufacturers stock repair parts for up to 10 years. This can be tremendous burden to appliance manufacturers because new appliances must be introduced every 1-2 years in order to keep pace the with the technology demands of consumers. It is quite possible that some lean manufactures will not be able to sustain the large inventories of spare parts to support this type of regulation. But smaller companies and upstarts will have to innovate to address the new standards.
Fortunately they may not not have to. Additive manufacturing will allow these companies to hold their inventory digitally, and only manufacture it as needed.
Instead of storing vast inventories of spare parts for years companies can design parts for washing machines, microwaves, etc to be 3D Printed. Then they simply have to stock parts as needed for specific time periods. Large quantities during production. And then only at the rate that spare parts are needed. This eliminates the need for stagnant capital kept in inventory. Essentially companies will have to design for Just-In-Time Manufacturing.
This would normally be a challenge. But production 3D Printing services like Slant 3D and others have the capacity to produce parts at rates that can meet the production requirements of these companies as they build and scale new products. Our High capacity 3D Printing farms can produce thousands of parts per week and our engineers are present to help you design your product appropriately. Submit initial designs for a quote of the product.
There seems to be hundreds of 3D Printers available to pick from. Cheap chinese kits and exceptionally expensive industrial systems. But what are the machines that simply work. Good quality machines that might not be the cheapest but are tools that you can rely on to make a good quality part ever time. Here are some good quality workhorse 3D Printers.
Taz 6 - $2,950
The Taz 6 is an open source 3D printer created by Aleph Objects. It is constructed of a powdercoated aluminum and steel frame and 3D printed parts. The Taz 6 is built in the US and is recognized as good reliable industrial desktop 3D printer. The one disadvantage of the Taz 6 is that it utilizes a moving print bed which effectively waves your parts through the air so that warping can be an issue.
Taz 6 Key Specs
The Mason V1 is a 3D Printer specifically designed to run for years with just normal maintenance. Born from printers designed for high volume 3D printing in a factory the Mason is made from a tough aluminum extrusion frame and 3D Printed parts created by the Mason itself. One truly unique advantage of the Mason is that any part made on it can immediately be produced by the thousands by the Slant 3D printing factories without samples are setup fees making it ideal for prototype to production design and planning. Through the Mason does have a slightly smaller print volume than other machines on this list.
Mason Key Specs
Ultimaker 3 - $3495
The smallest machine in this lineup. The Ultimaker 3 is a proven machine that has been around for awhile. With a completely integrated software, material, and machine setup Ultimaker makes it easy to get start printing quickly. Though maintenance can be difficult given the closed off nature of the machine and components.
It does boast dual extrusion which allows it to print parts with multiple materials.
Ultimaker 3 Key Specs
High Volume ESD Safe 3D Printing allows the creation of fixtures and jigs for electronics manufacturers.
At Slant 3D we are constantly working to add new materials and capabilities to our high volume 3D printing facilities. About a year ago we partnered with 3DXTech and Essentium to integrate ESD safe plastics into the production capabilities of Slant 3D.
ESD safe materials are those that prevent electrostatic charges from building up in a component. When you are shocked by a doorknob that is an ESD (Electrostatic Discharge). Those charges can damage electrical components. So all material in an electronics factory have to be ESD Safe.
It is very difficult to make 3D printing materials ESD safe. The only way to achieve it is to integrate carbon nanotubes into the polymer so they conduct electricity away. Essentium and 3DXTech are the only companies that have reliably created these types of materials with verified results.
Slant 3D has been doing production of 3D printed jigs, fixtures, and enclosures for electronics for some time. Usually the only electrical requirement was insulation and fire resistant behavior. But we recognized the need for ESD safe materials with several of our clients so we started to develop the 3D printing processes to handle these materials.
The ESD safe plastics that are now utilized at Slant 3D are High Rigidity TPU from Essentium and PLA from 3DXTech. These allow us to create tough functional components and ESD-safe prototypes for all of our clients. These materials are also integrated for high volume production. So final products can be 3D printed at scale with ESD safe materials, without the cost of tooling.
At Slant 3D we are constantly working to add new materials capabilities to our production 3D printing factories. So far we have integrated 3D printing materials ranging from bio-degradable bio-plastics to Carbon Fiber Nylons. And we will continue to build this catalog.
If you have a project that requires 3D printing with a specialty material please contact us for a free 3D printing quote and our engineers will work with you to get product and material integrated into our production capabilities so you can have your parts as soon as possible without the cost of tooling.