3D Printing farms are a becoming a critical part of manufacturing and small businesses in the creation of prototypes and tooling and actual finished products. But what are good printers to deploy in fleets? In this post we will discuss printers with proven track records of being used in 3D Printing farms.
The Mason 3D Printer is the machine used in all Slant 3D Printing farms. The Mason was originally never intended as a commercially saleable product. It was developed internally to be optimized for production. This mean high reliability and simple maintenance since they were meant to be deployed by the thousands the way data centers deploy servers. Versions of the Mason are the predominant machine used in Print Farm Beta being built in Boise Idaho, which will house 800 3D Printers when complete, producing hundreds of thousands of parts. The Mason was made commercially available in 2019, 2 years after the original versions were created and put into use in Slant 3D. They were made for clients that needed ready access to prototyping. Having a Mason allowed them to iterate on a prototype until they were satisfied and then immediately start production with Slant 3D printing services without lengthy sampling and verification. Any part made on a Mason 3D Printer is identical to what comes out of Slant 3D Printing farms, which are composed of Masons. That means a product can go from prototype to full scale production with no steps in between. The Mason is a machine for experienced users. Since it was designed for production it does not have many of the trendy bells and whistles of other machines. It is workhorse machine not a beginner trainer. It is meant to be a reliable and sturdy and last a few years without being a headache.
A popular machine among the 3D Printing community because of its user friendliness and reliability, the Prusa i3 was originally produced in 2018 and has been going strong since. Manufactured in Prague and based on the original RepRap project, the Prusa i3 was developed by Prusa Research. While the i3 is considered a consumer/hobbyist machine Prusa does use a fleet of 300-500 3D Printers at its factory in Prague to produce the 3D Printed parts for the printers that it sells. This does give them the credibility of "eating their own cooking." The Prusa i3 is recognized for its removable lined build-plate and auto bed leveling. Both of these features can make it simpler to operate. The downside is that it is a moving bed Cartesian design which limits the height of certain parts because the foundation of the part moving under it can lead to rippling at the the stop of the part.
Ultimaker is one of the leading brands of 3D Printers. Manufactured in Denmark Ultimaker focuses on making professional desktop printers. While Ultimaker does not use 3D Printing to make any of their machines the reliability and integration of their machines makes them ideal for many manufacturing settings where many personnel will be sharing the machines. Companies such as Gantri utilize a 3D Printing farm of Ultimaker machines to manufacture custom Lamps. And companies such as Jabil use the machines within their factories for prototyping and jigs. The Ultimaker machines are nearly second to none in print quality and ease of integration in a professional setting. But that also means that they are one of the most expensive options in creating a 3D Printing farm.
These are the machines that we consider viable for creating reliable 3D Printing farms. Lower cost machines, while easy to setup, often only have a usable life of less than a year with heavy use in a 3D Printing farm. Many of them also have defects or lack of consistency that just makes them a pain to work with. The machines in this post are all battle hardened and have a proven track record of actually working successfully in 3D Printing Farms.