Efficient 3D Printing
Understandably, part size and geometry affect pricing and lead times, but there are additional details you should look at before ordering. The following factors that may impact price and lead times on a 3D printing quote:
Material choice and the amount of material used is a primary factor in pricing and lead times. Some materials cost more due to their mechanical, physical, or chemical properties. Materials are associated with technologies that differ in build process and speed. Some technologies print in thicker layers than others, allowing for quicker builds.
The most cost-effective materials for small parts are simple photopolymers, but if an application is larger or more robust functionality is needed, a different material or 3D printing technology will be required.
3D Printing Technology
Technology plays a significant role in the cost and speed of builds. Some processes, like PolyJet, can build very quickly; when the part is finished, it’s removed from the printer and requires very little post-processing work other than removing support material.
By determining the best technology for your application, you can optimize your build time while maintaining part requirements. If speed is your ultimate aim, however, it’s best to consider materials and technology together. For instance, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) builds ASA material faster than ULTEM® 9085, even at the same resolution.
Orientation and Supports
It’s important to consider support structures with each 3D printing process, as these factors affect final results and post-processing needs. The amount of support material used to manufacture your design impacts the price.
Part orientation also plays a crucial role on the amount of supports needed. Reorientation can dramatically reduce the amount of material needed for the supports, therefore reducing costs. Determining optimal orientation is a balance between cost and the integrity of a part; for example, building on the XY plane to save cost could result in the loss of mechanical integrity or feature definition depending on your part design.
Layer height is dependent on each technology’s abilities. If your application requires a cosmetic part, thinner layers would be ideal to avoid the ridges inherent in 3D printing.
Each technology and its corresponding materials have unique minimum wall thickness requirements. You also have to balance the desire for thin walls with the performance required of the part. Thinner walls may lower build time, but walls that are too thin could mean flimsy features, warp or undesired fragility. The key is finding the balance between the wall and layer thicknesses necessary to get desired detail and performance, without adding unnecessary build time to your parts.
ID-Light or Sparse-Fill
Some applications need to be light weight – a perfect challenge for 3D printing. ID-Light, or sparse-fill options, for parts built in Stereolithography (SL) or FDM. This custom build style prints lattice-like structures inside enclosed parts, using less material and building much faster. This build style can be a neat short-cut to a cheaper, faster part. The trade-off, however, is a reduction in mechanical strength when compared to a solid part.
Depending on your project requirements, 3D printing process and material, some parts may need substantial post-processing and finishing. Parts requiring finishing operations like coatings, smooth surfaces or painting are always going to add cost and take more time to complete. Customer’s should analyze project needs and determine the cost benefit of finishing. Sometimes only a section of part may require smoothing or painting and specifying that for your project can help you manage project resources and delivery.
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